Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

April 29, 2011

Science: Still Done by Humans

Filed under: science — Tags: — paragardener @ 9:43 pm

Science is just a human institution, y’all. It may be oriented to observation, but that doesn’t make it all that superior to other forms of knowledge. Bias at the levels of funding, research and publishing can overwhelm the real information scientists are hunting for out there in the world.

Science fans (and I am one) like to point out that science is self-correcting, ever trying to sharpen its picture of the world, as opposed to an enterprise like faith, where the goal is to carry ideas through time intact. The technical fruits of science certainly keep improving in capabilities, cost of production and so on. Refinement in the gadgets reflects the physical sciences behind them advancing and self-correcting, despite occasional dead-ends or unforeseen consequences.

After giving the matter more thought, though, I’ve come to believe that science is mainly a follower and reflection of the spirit of the times. Scientists contribute oodles to the changes in society, but science is basically a big establishment welded into an agglomeration of big powerful establishments: the military, academia, “big government,” finance, industry, and, perhaps, “the people.” Science is under immense pressure to deliver for the powers that can afford to employ scientists!

Now much of the time scientists get to do real exploration and productive work in this system they live in. Take astronomers: much of what they do is literally trying to see things more clearly. Astronomical results may influence which telescope is built next, but probably won’t effect voting, purchasing patterns or attitudes towards women. So astronomy is pretty free to grow and self-correct like a science is supposed to, without overwhelming bias.

When you move from stars and particles and get into research with clear ramifications for human relations or a powerful someone’s bottom line, I believe the noise of bias comes to generally outweigh the signal of observable truth. The scientists working in politicized or big-money fields of endeavor can be hamstrung as effective explorers and become propagandists supporting some ideology or product. Scientists working with the deepest individual integrity still live in a system where they must acquire funds for their work, and then get their work published in a journal reviewed by other scientists in that field, so they can be effectively nullified.

Scientific racism, scientific tolerance

Consider the sad history of racism in science. Carl Linnaeus was an awesome scientist, who gave many species of plants and animals the scientific names they still carry 233 years after his death. A great classifier of birds and plants but not so sharp with humans, Linnaeus lumped people into races called Americanus, Asiaticus, Africanus, Europeanus, and Monstrosus (people with horns and hooves or whatever. It was practically the middle ages). Americanus were stubborn and fierce, Africanus lazy, Europeanus inventive and gentle, and Asiaticus greedy and distractible. In other words, the scientist more-or-less casually explained the races in terms of myths and stereotypes everyone “knew” in his time and place. To me, it looks more like a weak comedian making cheap racist cracks than the thoroughly hateful speech of a genocidal maniac. But, Linnaeus was a Swede, and Sweden’s global empire was pretty modest, so he probably got only a mediocre dose of racist propaganda.

Charles Darwin, an Englishman in a big, aggressive empire, saw a natural progression from monkeys up to apes up to blacks up to whites. He foresaw that the more primitive races would be selected out of existence, presumably due to the suffering inflicted by imperial conquerors. The degree to which Darwin was truly racist in his heart is debated, but his views as expressed in “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” would quickly be developed into the genocidal doctrine… uh, science… of Social Darwinism. The idea of Social Darwinism is to replace a society based on mutual aid with one based on survival of the fittest, lest without sufficient competition we evolve backwards into apes.

Broader heads are represented in darker shades.

Things got pretty colorfully ignorant for a while, with theories linking the ratio of your head's height vs. width to the level of your character, etc.

Around the 1910’s, people were well enough impressed with science’s accomplishments that some were thinking about using it to manage society. Old ways needed modernization so that everything could run more smoothly. For many people, even the human gene pool needed scientific management! Now in theory, no one should be better to manage a society than scientists, because they are supposed to question things and reason and solve puzzles and especially observe, rather than acting as dictators or conniving powerbrokers or demagogues. You’d think scientists would have the best handle on the answers. But remember that most scientists are working out of white, recently slave-trading, imperially conquering societies. They are not the shot callers, but are employed as advisers and managers by the governments and industrial combines which rely on violent control of the world’s resources!

The scheme of eugenics was cooked up during this time. The Greek roots of the word mean “keeping good stock,” which you’d think might apply to keeping a line of cabbages or dogs genetically healthy. However, “eugenics” has always referred to plans for genetic control of the human population. Mired in the whites-first imperial culture, enamored of Darwin and newly empowered by popular demands for scientific management, eugenicists provided inspiration and intellectual cover fire for anti-miscegnation laws, forced sterilizations, and ultimately the Nazi Holocaust.

That was pretty much far enough for racist science. The Allies came to loathe much about the Nazis, especially their extreme penchant for ending genetic lines! After the war, there was a brief hope for world unity and peace. A 1948 UN resolution called upon UNESCO (UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) to consider “proposing and recommending the general adoption of a programme of dissemination of scientific facts designed to bring about the disappearance of that which is commonly called race prejudice.” Those studying human variation were now getting support for going towards the opposite conclusion of what they’d mostly been finding before. I suspect the old racial scientists were mainly retired and replaced, rather than individual scientists switching sides in droves.

According to the 1950 UNESCO report: “Scientists were unanimous in wishing to have the opportunity of denouncing before world opinion the absurdity of the racist [Nazi] dogma” back in 1935. However, there were Nazi scientists and eugenically-inclined scientists amongst the future Allies, as well. In fact, in 1935 eugenicists were just building an institute in Germany, modeled after an institute running in California! As I’ve tried to show, you can follow a long, illustrious line of scientific thought into Nazi management of human stock. Linnaeus and Darwin, after all, are pretty well-respected names!

The equal rights position of UNESCO, which dominates today, is a Hell of a lot more reasonable than coercive or murderous eugenics schemes:

At the present moment, it is impossible to demonstrate that there exist between ”races” differences of intelligence and temperament other than those produced by cultural environment. If, tomorrow, more accurate tests or more thorough studies should prove that ”races” as such do, in fact, have different innate faculties or aptitudes, Unesco’s moral position on the race question would not be changed.

I just mean to say that the UNESCO position sure looks like a political response to the shifting winds of history, rather than a victory of the rigorously applied scientific method. Agitators, artists, preachers, writers, politicians, lawyers and judges, athletes and musicians, civil disobeyers, soldiers at war and scientists all played roles in changing attitudes about race.

From force to fleecing

So, science apparently got the race question wrong from its very beginning until Naziism became the big enemy and spoiled race hate for (almost) everybody. Scientists spouted off about drastic differences between races which turned out to be illusory or insignificant, for at least as long as they’ve been supporting equal treatment! Maybe, just maybe, science is still way off base in some of its inquiries, despite the existence of observable reality? Maybe for similar reasons as it’s been off-tracked before?

Today exploitation uses the pen more than the sword. Instead of people getting snatched up and made into slaves, everyone has to participate in a global economy where most of us inevitably get the shaft. Leaving aside weapons development, most science is directed towards developing and shilling products for the mass market, or fulfilling some government agenda, such as justifying draconian drug prohibition. Consider how social context affects the work of today’s researchers: what is the effect on research when synthetic chemicals are patentable and raw plant products are in the public domain? How much of economics and social science is tailor-made for political factions? Can a scientist really evaluate oregano and marijuana in the same “objective” framework? Will a corporation stand by the scientist whose recommendations for safe conduct cut into their bottom line?

Occasionally, you have a tobacco whore in a white coat fabricating data to please his bosses. More often, scientists work pretty much honestly in an environment that skews the collective sum of their work into a sham with little resemblance to reality. Group-think is a big culprit here. Imagine that you and your coworkers developed a genetically modified organism, or nuclear power plant, or other potential Frankenstein. Jurassic Park makes for good fantasy. So anyway… you’ve put months or years of your life into it, and it passes the management’s tests. How does it feel when some ignorant outsider starts asking a lot of probing questions and criticizing your work? No, damn you! Our dinosaur park is the coolest thing ever and you better not put it down or take it away from us! This is not conducive to objectively assessing the situation. Perhaps you then discover a dangerous flaw in the group’s methods. If the atmosphere is sufficiently charged, your warnings will be taken as a hazardous dissenting opinion, to be ignored and marginalized. Perhaps you’ll be moved to a different project.

The federal government loves throwing money at Dr. George Ricaurte, who consistently publishes papers illuminating dangerous aspects of MDMA (ecstasy). In one case, he reported that MDMA causes Parkinson’s symptoms, based on what he saw in his laboratory monkeys. The retraction was rather embarrassing — the monkeys had accidentally been given methamphetamine, more potent by weight than MDMA and already known to cause Parkinson’s symptoms. No one on the research team, with all their expert knowledge and instrumentation and keen powers of observation, could spot the fact that the monkeys weren’t reacting like monkeys “should” react to MDMA and question the test. It’s likely that each researcher, running slightly on autopilot, saw what they expected to see and missed the evidence right under their noses. This somnambulism suits their work of objectively studying MDMA as long as they consistently show it to be worthless and dangerous, and so Dr. Ricaurte’s team continues to attract funding.

Just because you claim objectivity, doesn’t mean I can’t question what you say

Recognizing that bias can overwhelm data and screw up answers to even the biggest questions of a field, we are now free to drop a certain level of deference to the opinions of mainstream science. Everyone please stand up, and step out of your mental prisons. No longer must you be cowed by flat assertions of “self-correcting objective proof, bitches!”

Should we believe mainstream science on food and diet? I think that the frequent changes in dietary recommendations and the general failure to cure Western Disease (aka metabolic syndrome) show that science has been most thoroughly off-track in studying nutrition. This is a big failure which is literally killing us. You might as well follow a kooky, superstitious fad diet ’cause you can’t hurt yourself much worse than by eating as generally recommended. I mean to say — every people which switches to the Western diet begins dying of diabetes and heart disease. Most science, including USDA and HHS reports, recommends some version of this diet, rigorously apportioned in starvation quantities. It doesn’t matter how many studies they can cite as evidence for their position — those recommendations have unequivocally and utterly failed when even the most health-conscious people in our society are succumbing to Western Disease. Recommending an actual change in diet is beyond their capability, really… any change in diet would hurt one of the food industry concerns, who will label dissent as “junk science” and “libel” and generally not allow it to displace lethal mainstream wisdom.

How meaningful is it that mainstream science consistently rejects the supernatural? I mean, it’s not like science just keeps on evaluating tales of the paranormal but coming up dry. I wondered the other day if some people might really see auras. Here’s the thinking: animals are alert to “animal energy,” a sort of non-verbal communication shared by all animals and the Dog Whisperer. It communicates important animal ideas like threats, domination, submission, love and fear. It consists of body language, sounds, smell, and possibly more. Could someone see animal energy as colored auras? Many people live with “synesthesia,” wherein one sense or “cognitive pathway” bleeds into another. Synesthetes may see sounds as colored abstract images, or associate a different personality with each thing in an ordered list (days of the week, alphabet, etc.), or taste words, or experience one or more of quite a number of known switch-ups. Seeing animal energy as a colored blob doesn’t seem too far fetched. Or, you could predetermine that nothing paranormal is real and perhaps dismiss anyone who claims to see auras as a liar or mentally ill. When science does get a handle on some phenomenon such as ball lightning, St. Elmo’s Fire, or meteorites, it tends to forget ever having dismissed said phenomenon as feeble-minded superstition.

I’m not suggesting you throw out all belief in science. The fundamentals of chemistry and physics are solid enough. Newton’s universal gravitation works for me, even though it’s only a special case of general relativity and cannot quite be True as a statement about the entire universe. On the other hand, the Periodic Table of Elements is unshakably real to me — I can’t imagine any other explanation for the plethora of substances in this world, than the combining and recombining of those invisible little atoms with their various demands for electrons. Also, I believe in an old age for the Earth — most likely near the mainstream estimate of 5 billion years, but certainly far older than the 6,000 years given by a literal reading of the Bible. I learned about dinosaurs and fossils and strata of rocks as a kid, so I’ve always believed in the ancient Earth. Arguments for a young Earth, I’m sorry to have to say, are really weak and only work if you really, really want them to.

Do remember not to always leave for science the last word, or you could end up participating in stupidity of the most expert type. You might remember that lots of perceptive people are not scientists. Writers and philosophers might occasionally have something to contribute, such as a broadmindedness sometimes missing when you work deep in a field of specialists. Also, you don’t always need years of specialist education to understand what science is saying, and evaluate it for whether or not it makes any sense! You are right to question whether or not the truth was discovered, if you question with integrity. The truth may be only a stream, under a sea of conflicting interests.

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6 Comments »

  1. What other forms of knowledge?

    I agree with what you say about bias. OK, that Tim Minchin thing I loved? yeah, it was biased (“when alternative medicine works, it’s called medicine”–if only). What people did with Darwin was not Darwin’s fault. “Far from it. Darwin was an abolitionist whose scientific work refuted the commonly held racist beliefs of his time and opposed already existing eugenic concepts. It is, in fact, evolution that overturned the widely held belief in the divine superiority of the ‘white race;” [link: http://www.rationalrevolution.net/articles/darwin_nazism.htm%5D (Read the entire article at the link.) To wit:

    “In contrast to the existing views on race, Darwin showed that:

    People cannot be classified as different species
    All races are related and have a common ancestry
    All people come from “savage” origins
    The different races have much more in common than was widely believed
    The mental capabilities of all races are virtually the same and there is greater variation within races than between races
    Different races of people can interbreed and there is no concern for ill effects
    Culture, not biology, accounted for the greatest differences between the races
    Races are not distinct, but rather they blend together.”

    It is common knowledge that in Origin of Species, the word “race” refers to plants and animals (“the several races, for example, of the cabbage …). You are completely mistaken about Darwin’s views.

    Social Darwinism was not due to Darwin. Science can be and often is distorted and misused. And I’m not arguing that scientists are not swayed by the temptations of money and power. Hey, that’s capitalism, right!

    Nazism was not due to Darwinism. Ideas of Semite inferiority were well lodged within the society long before Darwin ever wrote. Hitler himself disliked Darwinism. I will try to find a link to that, which I read just recently. Hitler made many, many statements about being a Christian and about his belief in a god.

    Science has always acknowledged that new information will alter things. Okay, I’m the first to admit that they don’t like outsiders. You are right in that there’s a bias towards academics etc. (we only have to look at the guy who figured out the flu virus but couldn’t get published anywhere to agree to that.)

    Yes, science is still done by humans, and as such, isn’t immune to criticism. By all means we should criticize. And science ought to respond by coming clean, defending itself, or admitting it was wrong. But like you said, it’s done by humans … One also has to admit that people will call it “science” when it isn’t.

    And science ought to take new information into account. Fundamentalist religious types, however, pride themselves on believing the same old shit that passed for some kind of truth back in the Bronze Age. “Science changes,” they say smugly. “The Bible doesn’t!” And they regard this as a good.

    I’m not going to argue that peer-reviewed journals etc. necessarily make for more honest science, although I believe that, on the whole, they do. Nor am I going to argue that bias doesn’t exist in science. I’m just saying that at least trying to formalize ways of investigating nature is probably a pretty sound idea. And you and I do know some very honest scientists.

    Just sayin’ — I will still go with science, at least the way it ought to be done, rather than believe religious fairy tales. That’s not to say I don’t challenge any conclusions scientists may reach. You might remind yourself that I believe I did experience a ghost while I was growing up. i just think that science is too dismissive of it and that some day such phenomena could be explained. but to go around attributing this and that to god or vishnu or something … please. Science is faulty, as is every single human endeavor.

    I don’t think that taking science seriously means that we can’t also love poetry or read philosophy. I think, with Jerry Coyne, that more scientists read novels than English majors read science. I don’t think most of us who respect science think that NO OTHER FIELD can have anything to say about the human condition–far from it! When i want to read about the human condition, I go to literature. And music. And so do lots of scientists.

    I just think religious superstition and supertstition of all kinds are very harmful. But outlining my reasons for that would take, well, a book.

    Comment by estraven — April 30, 2011 @ 1:56 am

    • Rightly did I say, that people still debate Darwin’s racism!

      Regarding the term “race” in “Origin of the Species,” I think that it applies to races of bananas and races of people equally, though “Origin” says little about human beings in particular.

      “The Descent of Man” is full of references to the idea that, while people are of one species, whites have evolved to a higher, less animalistic state than “Negroes” and Australians. Whites thus have a stronger moral culture and are destined to eventually exterminate the lesser races in the competition between nations. While these ideas are not the focus of the book, they do indeed together form the foundation for racial eugenic thought. Inspired by Darwin’s work, his own cousin Francis Galton coined the word “eugenics” and founded that movement (to be fair, Darwin probably didn’t expect Origin’s chapter on artificial selection — aka breeding — to be applied to people. His friend Adam Sedgwick did warn him, though, that “if this book were to find general public acceptance, it would bring with it a brutalization of the human race such as it had never seen before.”).

      The meat of any racism of Darwin’s has to be in “The Descent of Man,” so I searched it for the word “negro” and read any obviously applicable chapters to get a good feel for what it says about race. Note that, at least on Literature.org, Descent of Man has the excellent style of putting citations in right after the paragraph where they were cited. Thus if you wonder, “where does that info come from?”, it’s right there, and if you don’t care, it’s no problem to skip over it. No flipping to the back and forth and back and forth…

      Darwin cites many physical similarities which place Negroes a little closer to apes than are whites:

      Descent of Man chapter I –
      The inability to move the ears in man and several apes is, however, partly compensated by the freedom with which they can move the head in a horizontal plane, so as to catch sounds from all directions. It has been asserted that the ear of man alone possesses a lobule; but “a rudiment of it is found in the gorilla”; and, as I hear from Prof. Preyer, it is not rarely absent in the negro… … …

      The nictitating membrane, or third eyelid, with its accessory muscles and other structures, is especially well developed in birds, and is of much functional importance to them, as it can be rapidly drawn across the whole eyeball. It is found in some reptiles and amphibians, and in certain fishes, as in sharks. It is fairly well developed in the two lower divisions of the mammalian series, namely, in the Monotremata and marsupials, and in some few of the higher mammals, as in the walrus. But in man, the Quadrumana, and most other mammals, it exists, as is admitted by all anatomists, as a mere rudiment, called the semilunar fold.*

      *…This rudiment apparently is somewhat larger in Negroes and Australians than in Europeans, see Carl Vogt, Lectures on Man, Eng. translat., p. 129… … …

      The sense of smell is of the highest importance to the greater number of mammals- to some, as the ruminants, in warning them of danger; to others, as the Carnivora, in finding their prey; to others, again, as the wild boar, for both purposes combined. But the sense of smell is of extremely slight service, if any, even to the dark coloured races of men, in whom it is much more highly developed than in the white and civilised races.*

      * The account given by Humboldt of the power of smell possessed by the natives of South America is well known, and has been confirmed by others. M. Houzeau (Etudes sur les Facultes Mentales, &c., tom. i., 1872, p. 91) asserts that he repeatedly made experiments, and proved that Negroes and Indians could recognise persons in the dark by their odour. Dr. W. Ogle has made some curious observations on the connection between the power of smell and the colouring matter of the mucous membrane of the olfactory region as well as of the skin of the body. I have, therefore, spoken in the text of the dark-coloured races having a finer sense of smell than the white races. See his paper, Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, London, vol. liii., 1870, p. 276… … …

      There is another foramen or perforation in the humerus, occasionally present in man, which may be called the inter-condyloid. This occurs, but not constantly, in various anthropoid and other apes,* and likewise in many of the lower animals. It is remarkable that this perforation seems to have been present in man much more frequently during ancient times than recently. Mr. Busk*(2) has collected the following evidence on this head: Prof. Broca “noticed the perforation in four and a half per cent of the arm-bones collected in the ‘Cimetiere, du Sud,’ at Paris; and in the Grotto of Orrony, the contents of which are referred to the Bronze period, as many as eight humeri out of thirty-two were perforated; but this extraordinary proportion, he thinks, might be due to the cavern having been a sort of ‘family vault.’ Again, M. Dupont found thirty per cent of perforated bones in the caves of the Valley of the Lesse, belonging to the Reindeer period; whilst M. Leguay, in a sort of dolmen at Argenteuil, observed twenty-five per cent to be perforated; and M. Pruner-Bey found twenty-six per cent in the same condition in bones from Vaureal. Nor should it be left unnoticed that M. Pruner-Bey states that this condition is common in Guanche skeletons.” It is an interesting fact that ancient races, in this and several other cases, more frequently present structures which resemble those of the lower animals than do the modern. One chief cause seems to be that the ancient races stand somewhat nearer in the long line of descent to their remote animal-like progenitors.

      * Mr. St. George Mivart, Transactions Phil. Soc., 1867, p. 310.

      *(2) “On the Caves of Gibraltar,” Transactions of the International Congress of Prehistoric Archaeology, Third Session, 1869, p. 159. Prof. Wyman has lately shewn (Fourth Annual Report, Peabody Museum, 1871, p. 20), that this perforation is present in thirty-one per cent of some human remains from ancient mounds in the Western United States, and in Florida. It frequently occurs in the negro… … …

      In Chapter 5 we see how natural and moral it is for whites to supplant the other races of humanity:
      It must not be forgotten that although a high standard of morality gives but a slight or no advantage to each individual man and his children over the other men of the same tribe, yet that an increase in the number of well-endowed men and an advancement in the standard of morality will certainly give an immense advantage to one tribe over another. A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection. At all times throughout the world tribes have supplanted other tribes; and as morality is one important element in their success, the standard of morality and the number of well-endowed men will thus everywhere tend to rise and increase.

      It is, however, very difficult to form any judgment why one particular tribe and not another has been successful and has risen in the scale of civilisation. Many savages are in the same condition as when first discovered several centuries ago. As Mr. Bagehot has remarked, we are apt to look at the progress as normal in human society; but history refutes this. The ancients did not even entertain the idea, nor do the Oriental nations at the present day. According to another high authority, Sir Henry Maine, “The greatest part of mankind has never shewn a particle of desire that its civil institutions should be improved.”* Progress seems to depend on many concurrent favourable conditions, far too complex to be followed out. But it has often been remarked, that a cool climate, from leading to industry and to the various arts, has been highly favourable thereto. The Esquimaux, pressed by hard necessity, have succeeded in many ingenious inventions, but their climate has been too severe for continued progress. Nomadic habits, whether over wide plains, or through the dense forests of the tropics, or along the shores of the sea, have in every case been highly detrimental… … …

      In Chapter 6, we learn that Blacks are the closest living relative of “the missing link” between humans and apes:
      The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form; but this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of evolution. Breaks often occur in all parts of the series, some being wide, sharp and defined, others less so in various degrees; as between the orang and its nearest allies- between the Tarsius and the other Lemuridae- between the elephant, and in a more striking manner between the Ornithorhynchus or Echidna, and all other mammals. But these breaks depend merely on the number of related forms which have become extinct.

      At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes, as Professor Schaaffhausen has remarked,* will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla.

      In Chapter 7, Darwin makes some redeeming comments about the essential similarity of all people:
      Although the existing races of man differ in many respects, as in colour, hair, shape of skull, proportions of the body, &c., yet if their whole structure be taken into consideration they are found to resemble each other closely in a multitude of points. Many of these are of so unimportant or of so singular a nature, that it is extremely improbable that they should have been independently acquired by aboriginally distinct species or races. The same remark holds good with equal or greater force with respect to the numerous points of mental similarity between the most distinct races of man. The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans are as different from each other in mind as any three races that can be named; yet I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Feugians on board the Beagle, with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate.

      Of course, I exclaimed “Woo doggies, what an adventure on the Beagle!” until I remembered that “being intimate” used to mean something a bit less specific than what it means today.

      On some page I’ve lost at the moment, Darwin comments on the fact that odd-looking natives don’t always see whites as all that attractive, either. People who haven’t seen whites, tend to think we must be gravely ill. But in Chapter 18, differences of aesthetic taste once again prove the base, animal nature of the negro:
      In an earlier chapter we have seen that the mental powers of the higher animals do not differ in kind, though greatly in degree, from the corresponding powers of man, especially of the lower and barbarous races; and it would appear that even their taste for the beautiful is not widely different from that of the Quadrumana. As the negro of Africa raises the flesh on his face into parallel ridges “or cicatrices, high above the natural surface, which unsightly deformities are considered great personal attractions”;- as negroes and savages in many parts of the world paint their faces with red, blue, white, or black bars,- so the male mandrill of Africa appears to have acquired his deeply-furrowed and gaudily-coloured face from having been thus rendered attractive to the female.

      Hopefully this tract from Chapter 19 will outrage your feminism, though it’s still racist as an afterthought:
      Now, when two men are put into competition, or a man with a woman, both possessed of every mental quality in equal perfection, save that one has higher energy, perseverance, and courage, the latter will generally become more eminent in every pursuit, and will gain the ascendancy.* He may be said to possess genius- for genius has been declared by a great authority to be patience; and patience, in this sense, means unflinching, undaunted perseverance. But this view of genius is perhaps deficient; for without the higher powers of the imagination and reason, no eminent success can be gained in many subjects. These latter faculties, as well as the former, will have been developed in man, partly through sexual selection,- that is, through the contest of rival males, and partly through natural selection, that is, from success in the general struggle for life; and as in both cases the struggle will have been during maturity, the characters gained will have been transmitted more fully to the male than to the female offspring. It accords in a striking manner with this view of the modification and reinforcement of many of our mental faculties by sexual selection, that, firstly, they notoriously undergo a considerable change at puberty,*(2) and, secondly, that eunuchs remain throughout life inferior in these same qualities. Thus, man has ultimately become superior to woman. It is, indeed, fortunate that the law of the equal transmission of characters to both sexes prevails with mammals; otherwise, it is probable that man would have become as superior in mental endowment to woman, as the peacock is in ornamental plumage to the peahen.

      * J. Stuart Mill remarks (The Subjection of Women, 1869, p. 122), “The things in which man most excels woman are those which require most plodding, and long hammering at single thoughts.” What is this but energy and perseverance?

      *(2) Maudsley, Mind and Body, p. 31.

      It must be borne in mind that the tendency in characters acquired by either sex late in life, to be transmitted to the same sex at the same age, and of early acquired characters to be transmitted to both sexes, are rules which, though general, do not always hold. If they always held good, we might conclude (but I here exceed my proper bounds) that the inherited effects of the early education of boys and girls would be transmitted equally to both sexes; so that the present inequality in mental power between the sexes would not be effaced by a similar course of early training; nor can it have been caused by their dissimilar early training. In order that woman should reach the same standard as man, she ought, when nearly adult, to be trained to energy and perseverance, and to have her reason and imagination exercised to the highest point; and then she would probably transmit these qualities chiefly to her adult daughters. All women, however, could not be thus raised, unless during many generations those who excelled in the above robust virtues were married, and produced offspring in larger numbers than other women. As before remarked of bodily strength, although men do not now fight for their wives, and this form of selection has passed away, yet during manhood, they generally undergo a severe struggle in order to maintain themselves and their families; and this will tend to keep up or even increase their mental powers, and, as a consequence, the present inequality between the sexes.*

      * An observation by Vogt bears on this subject: he says, “It is a remarkable circumstance, that the difference between the sexes, as regards the cranial cavity, increases with the development of the race, so that the male European excels much more the female, than the negro the negress. Welcker confirms this statement of Huschke from his measurements of negro and German skulls.” But Vogt admits (Lectures on Man, Eng. translat., 1864, p. 81) that more observations are requisite on this point.

      My personal favorite:
      We see that the musical faculties, which are not wholly deficient in any race, are capable of prompt and high development, for Hottentots and Negroes have become excellent musicians, although in their native countries they rarely practise anything that we should consider music.

      No music in Africa?!

      Perhaps, compared to his colleagues, Darwin looked like an example of political correctness. He was still pretty frickin’ racist! Anyways, I’m not trying to blame the Holocaust on Darwin personally. He certainly handed a lot of ammunition to the eugenicists, so maybe if he held the negro in such high regard he should’ve thought twice about what he published.

      My real point was that all the theories about “man” from that time were terribly racist, and remained so until discredited by a new consensus appearing almost out of thin air post-WWII. The WHOLE FIELD of anthropologists and biologists and so on studying human beings had drastically racist things to say about us. If (pre-WWII) you turned to science for guidance about racial questions, you’d either be a racist or one of those independent souls continually swimming against the flow.

      White race divinely superior or superior as an unexpected consequence of natural selection and climate? Doesn’t make much difference to the people being colonized or shoved into ovens. While late medieval witches were burned over religious belief, Nazis burned homosexuals, the mentally ill, and ultimately Jews and Gypsies over a dogma they saw as scientific and rational. Looking only at the body count of these worst-case scenarios, I’d have to choose to stand with the religious!

      Comment by paragardener — May 2, 2011 @ 8:45 pm

  2. Okay then. Read the Old Testament and do a body count. Read about the Crusades, and the Inquisition, and the witch-hunts, and do a body count. Read about all the stupid religious wars, and do a body count. And on and on.

    The telling words are “a dogma THEY SAW as scientific and rational.” It WASN’T scientific and rational; it was a complete distortion.

    Science can be and is misused. But religion–religion allows people to do evil and say it’s holy. Religion allows people to do things, even encourages and valorizes people for doing things that make people suffer (remember the Terry Schiavo case?). And let us not forget that a pope was perfectly fine with the Nazi agenda.

    And you don’t have to distort religion to justify evil. It’s right there in the holy texts: genocide against the Canaanites, for example. Yahweh gave his blessing and even ordered the thing.

    I’ll take science, thanks. Not take it uncritically, but I want something more than “because god said so” to underwrite my experience of the world.

    Comment by estraven — May 2, 2011 @ 9:15 pm

    • Sorry, but if you want to discount 150 years of scientific racism as “not good science,” it is perfectly fair for me (perversely playing God’s advocate) to turn around to say that witch burning and Inquisition were “not true religion.”

      Comment by paragardener — May 3, 2011 @ 3:18 am

  3. I agree that eugenics was scientific racism. Those who carried it out, whether by forced sterilization or outright murder (in the case of the Nazis), rationalized their actions by invoking science. I’d say in the case of the Nazis that they were looking around for “scientific” support after the fact–after they had already decided on the Final Solution. But witch-burning was indeed true religion, for the Bible says, “Suffer not a witch to live.” Further, the god of the Old Testament routinely slaughtered those who didn’t follow him, setting an example for such things as the Crusades and the Inquisition. And today, in the name of religion, men throw acid into the faces of little girls for their great sin of attending school. People fly planes into buildings out of religious fervor. You’re quite right, science has had its dark days. And yes, since it’s done by humans, it’s going to be imperfect, to say the least. Have you read Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man? He talks about eugenics and intelligence tests and all that stuff and it’s quite disheartening. And he, as I’m sure you know, was a leading light in evolutionary theory. I think he was all wrong about science and religion being “non-overlapping magisteria” (NOMA) but he wrote some great stuff for non-scientists like me. Let’s face it, humans will use whatever they can to justify their own biases and hateful impulses. At least with science you have testable hypotheses. You have no such thing with religion. People retain their belief in a 6000-year-old earth in the teeth of the evidence and brag about their faith. I don’t think we should have blind faith in anything. I certainly don’t uncritically accept what the pharmaceutical companies tell me, based on their data. For all its imperfections, I still think science is a much better way to interpret the world compared to religion. Can’t say I’m enthusiastic about nuclear weapons and other advanced methods of killing people that science has come up with, though.

    Comment by estraven — May 3, 2011 @ 8:53 am

    • You’re right on an important point there, that at least science can drop bad ideas. Whereas, a kind-hearted and fully awake Christian has the embarrassing problem of explaining away those Bible passages about a wife slaving for her husband or God ordering masses slaughtered.

      Comment by paragardener — May 4, 2011 @ 7:33 pm


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