The Left’s Favorite Books, Debunked

At the end of the post Understanding the far-left, I dismissed much of the left’s work on social science as ‘flimsy science’.

The far-left tends to blame environment for inequality, because biological differences, such as IQ, that may engender inequality less tractable to state intervention. Stephen Jay Gould (The Mismeasure of Man) and Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel), who were inspired by the progenitor of cultural relativism, Franz Boas, are major proponents of this view. The media by corroborating with academia are complicit in pushing what is essentially cultural Marxism wrapped in flimsy science.

Publications that conform to or advance a leftist agenda tend to take longer to be challenged, because peers, who often hold similar political views, want to believe what they read and are less inclined to scrutinize the work. This is related to confirmation biases, in which people look for evidence that supports their own personal biases but subconsciously overlook contravening evidence.

Much of the left’s arguments in the social sciences fall apart when challenged, and there are many notable examples, from outright frauds to revisionism and wishful thinking, of the left trying to promote a political agenda under the veneer of ‘science’.

Here are some examples:

Arming America, by Michael A. Bellesiles – a book which purportedly upended America’s history of ‘gun culture’ was later shown to be an elaborate hoax involving false or non-existent probate data and misattributed quotes. Academics initially lavished the book with praise, but it wasn’t until two years later thanks to sleuthing by Clayton Cramer, a historian and software engineer who initially raised doubts about the veracity of the book, did the extent of the fraud become revealed in an independent academic inquiry, eventually resulting in Bellesiles losing his professorship and the trustees of Columbia University rescinding the book’s prestigious Bancroft Prize .

Books by Daniel Kahneman, Malcolm Gladwell, and Dan Ariely fall into the category of being unreproducible pop-psychology pseudoscience. To get an idea of how big of the problem this is, Diederik Alexander Stapel, a former professor of social psychology at Tilburg University, was suspended in 2011 for fabricating data to give politically correct results. He falsified data in over 50 papers. This is related to the recent ‘replication scandal’ in the social sciences, in which a large percentage of results were found to unreproducible. Out of 100 results, only a third could be replicated. The entire field of behavior psychology, while it sells a lot of books and fills TED Talk auditoriums, seems to be mostly bunkum. There are many ways dishonest behavior psychologists can achieve ‘significant results’, such as by re-testing subjects repeatedly until significant results are obtained by chance, or by outright fabricating the data.

Related: Pop Psychology Charlatans

The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould. Although not an obvious fraud like the above examples, in the decades following its publication much of the book has been discredited by leading psychometricians Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen. The title refers to purported misconduct by Samuel Morton that attributed skull volumes for blacks as too ‘low’, but research in 2011 later vindicated Morton, with Gould, not Morton, having ‘mismeasured’. Furthermore, recent MRI studies not only corroborate with Morton’s cranial measurement findings but also show a statistical correlation between brain-size, IQ, and the g factor. From The Persistence of the Black-White IQ Gap, head size is hereditary, correlated with intelligence, and varies among races:

Gould often defers to an argument that intelligence cannot be ascertained through tests nor can be measured objectively, accusing scientists who try to do so of ‘reification’, in which an abstract concept like intelligence is made ‘concrete’ through tests. But Gould’s dismissal of IQ and the general intelligence factor, g, is also discredited. From Wikipedia

Research in the field of behavioral genetics has established that the construct of g is highly heritable. It has a number of other biological correlates, including brain size. It is also a significant predictor of individual differences in many social outcomes, particularly in education and employment. The most widely accepted contemporary theories of intelligence incorporate the g factor.[4] However, critics of g have contended that an emphasis on g is misplaced and entails a devaluation of other important abilities, as well as supporting an unrealistic reified view of human intelligence.

There is also evidence Gould misrepresents studies:

Davis accused Gould of having misrepresented a study by Henry H. Goddard (1866–1957) about the intelligence of Jewish, Hungarian, Italian, and Russian immigrants to the U.S., wherein Gould reported Goddard’s qualifying those people as “feeble-minded”; whereas, in the initial sentence of the study, Goddard said the study subjects were atypical members of their ethnic groups, who had been selected because of their suspected sub-normal intelligence

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond, another favorite of the blank-slate left, tells a politically correct tale of how certain groups (sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans, Aboriginal Australians) fell behind not because of any sort of biological or cultural factors, but due to being ravaged by Europeans and Eurasians bearing guns, germs and steel, who were blessed with certain geographical benefits that these other groups lacked. Jared’s thesis falls apart when you consider the evidence that shows that Blacks still lag Whites and Asians for a variety of metrics (IQ, income, incarceration, employment, welfare dependency, educational attainment, wealth of nations, national IQ, etc.), despite modern advances. We can no longer blame geography and germs for the persistent under-performance of certain groups, given that modern technology, modern medicine, and the modern liberal welfare state has created a much more level playing field. Even Black children raised in wealthy families perform as poorly as poor Whites on the SAT, suggesting some combination of biological and cultural factors for underachievement, versus Blacks being victims of Whites oppression or Whites having an unfair advantage. This means that biological factors such as IQ cannot be ruled out as Jared tries to do.

There are many threads on Reddit that tear this book apart. Experts concede that Guns, Germs, and Steel is more of a story than a serious academic inquiry and that the ambitious scope of the book comes at the cost of accuracy.

Fooled By Randomness, The Black Swan, and Anti-Fragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, describe how unexpected things occasionally happen, dubbed by Taleb as ‘Black Swans’. Liberals like to cite these books as examples of how capitalism, bankers and Wall St. elites, and interconnected systems fail. Because Black Swans have unlimited potential variance, they cannot be modeled by Gaussian distributions, and occasionally lead to catastrophically large losses for funds that fall prey to such unexpected events. Taleb suggests betting on Black Swans is profitable, and he himself purportedly made a fortune in 2008 doing so, but the evidence suggests otherwise – that such bets, over the long run, have a negative expected value despise occasionally large payoffs. What is profitable, however, is writing books and giving seminars about Black Swans, which is why he keeps doing it. Taleb, like the examples above, often omits or misconstrues research by experts that counter his assumptions.

The Big Short by Michael Lewis, as well as the movie, ignores the role of the Clinton administration and the irresponsible homeowner for the 2006-2009 housing and financial market crash, instead blaming Wall St. greed and bankers.