May 25, 2011

The Politics of the Null Hypothesis

In which I talk about the lack of evidence for a genetic explanation for variation in human intelligence. In public.

Nothing about the field of IQ studies is free of political influence. It's naive to believe that any kind of research on a purported measure of individual merit could be politics-free in a self-proclaimed meritocracy with wide inequalities. Binet's original work was meant to determine which children should have access to additional educational resources. IQ scores are used occasionally to sort out "inappropriate" candidates for various jobs, including those whose IQs are too high for a role. IQ as a proxy for merit is used to argue that a group does or does not face discrimination in educational or career opportunities. This is all terribly political.

The question isn't whether there are politics surrounding this issue or where. They're everywhere. The question is where does the politics get in the way of the science? Again, the answers don't favor Pinker's view of a fatwa against genetic explanations of individual differences.

For those of you visiting from the Scientific American Guest Blog, welcome to Almost Diamonds. Kick back. Relax. Drinks are in the fridge. If you're looking for more on politically sensitive science, may I interest you in the following posts?

What Is Race Good For?

The Argument for Race
There were four main arguments made for the biological validity of race:

  1. Genetic testing allows for grouping by country of ancestor origin.

  2. Race may not predict the things it's been used to predict in the past, but it's an important proxy for genetics in medicine.

  3. Yes, assignment of humans to racial categories is an arbitrary procedure, but we use arbitrary names for parts of other continua. Why not race?

  4. You're just being PC, Marxist wankers.

I think we can ignore #4, but the rest were addressed in the discussion.

Sex, Science, and Social Policy

There's just one little problem: The studies themselves. In 2001, Paul, Linz, and Shafer took a look at what kind of evidence was being used by those who wanted to marginalize sex-related businesses. What they found was impressive...but not in the way one would hope.

The researchers started with a list of four requirements that would need to be met for a study on the topic to be considered scientific. In situations like this, where laws and regulations may be challenged in court, scientific evidence isn't just a good idea. It's the legal standard, so meeting these scientific criteria is important.

Rape Myth #1: She's Probably Lying
The Rate of False Report

The standard figure passed around by victim advocates suggests a rate of false reports of 8% based on FBI crime statistics from 1997. This is comparable to rates for other crimes. However, citations can be found for rates as low as 1.5% and as high as 90%. In other words, huh? How do we deal with a range that big?

Luckily for those who want to sort out the truth of the matter, two papers came out in 2010 that shed considerable light by examining how false rape report rates are generated. David Lisak, Lori Gardinier, Sarah C. Nicksa, and Ashley M. Cote collected those prior studies that had the best (and most transparent) processes for sorting between false and merely unproven allegations. They also used a similar process for determining the rate of false reports of rape at a U.S. college.

Skepticism and Rape Adaptations

Now, the problem is not that Dr. Shackelford is an evo psych researcher. There are people doing good work in evo psych. The problem is that Dr. Shackelford isn't doing good work on this topic. In particular, the work he is presenting, relating female infidelity to rape of female partners by male partners, doesn't tell us anything that the already robust scientific literature on rape hasn't already told us.


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