June 6th, 2011
|07:50 pm - Kanazawa found wanting|
I keep planning to post about evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa. A few weeks ago an article by him was published in Psychology Today in which he claimed that he had proved by statistical means that black women were 'objectively' uglier than white women.
Because this is such a repulsive claim in so many ways I want to say straight up, and link to the proof, that someone re-analysed his source data, and the numbers do not support his conclusion (my emphasis below):
It is obvious that among the women in the sample, there is no difference between ethnicities in terms of ratings of physical attractiveness. Differences in the distributions for females when tested with a regular (and slightly liberal) test of independence are non-significant and hence can be attributed to chance (Pearson's Chi-Square=15.6, DF=12, p =.210) I do know that this is not in itself sufficient response, and that the very framing of the issue is offensive, but I just wanted to get that out the way.
Psychology Today has taken down the article. But before analysis of source data definitively proved he was wrong, many people were saying that criticising him was 'Political Correctness gone mad'. But to my mind his article was wrong regardless of the data. Why?
For one thing it is obvious that assessment of attractiveness is linked to consideration of social status and the cultural representation of 'beauty'. And it is clear that ethnicity is not culturally neutral. But leaving this significant issue to one side, his very argument about why people of African origin were less attractive than Europeans is barking mad. This is a direct quote from his article, and it is unbelievably stupid:
Because they have existed much longer in human evolutionary history, Africans have more mutations in their genomes than other races. And the mutation loads significantly decrease physical attractiveness.
This is idiotic rubbish. All human beings on earth have precisely the same 'length of evolutionary history'. The genetic slate was not wiped clean of faults when people left Africa. If anything - as they ultimately descend from small migrant groups - Europeans are slightly more likely to exhibit genome defects than Africans (apparently).
And even beyond this I think people should start asking why this keeps happening. Why is the spurious science always this way round. Why is it always 'black people are ugly', 'women are talkative', 'white men are clever'. Why does every 'brave and controversial' article support the interests of the powerful, never challenge them? It's a strange kind of courage to my mind.
What got me about that article (apart from the valid points you make here) was the use of the world 'objectively' to describe the reactions of the interviewers - about whom, and about whose qualifications to make 'objective' assessments of beauty, we are told nothing.
Yes, it's almost deliberately ridiculous. I almost feel he was trying to see how far he could push it. Why, I can't imagine.
I would love to know what the heck Psychology Today's editor was thinking when he or she allowed this dreck to be published.
Yes, I think that's a very good question. I don't expect them to re-analyse the data, but that paragraph I quoted is obvious rubbish.
My understanding is that Psychology Today isn't actually edited in that sort of traditional, rigorous sense where they actually check what goes out, much less peer review it. I think it kind of operates more like a set of blogs?
Oh, right, well I will give it exactly that much credence from now on. I think he may have lost his job with LSE over this - and other similar issues.
The piece you quote is so obviously ridiculous that one can't imagine why anyone would publish it.
The re-analysis of the attractiveness data you link is very interesting. I'd have assumed that people would tend to rate as attractive people of the same race as themselves, which would disfavour those races numerically under-represented in the sample. It's good to see that doesn't seem to be the case, at least in N. America.
I am frankly surprised that there isn't more bias in the way people rate attractiveness. Not least because people might say what they feel is more acceptable, and film and Tv do plaster us with a limited vision of beauty.
I've realised, writing this racist brown narrator of mine, that my personal idea of female beauty is definitely racially specific. It's been a very revealing exercise.
Yeah, that's so massively ridiculous that it's hard to know where to begin.
Having followed the link to the original article, though, I have to say it has a spurious sheen of plausibility. All those nice clear charts with well-defined error bars! You have to read the text fairly closely to see the massive bollocks on which the whole thing rests. Which is bad. So most of the horrified replies don't get at the core of the problem—people are concerned about what this means for education, the self-image of black people, and so on, not even realising that it's all nonsense from the start.
Yes, it's interesting because I was going to post about a month ago with all the socio-cultural stuff about how attractiveness is framed, and gradually as the weeks went by it all unravelled anyway.
Evolutionary psychology has just about cornered the market on spurious bollocks which utterly fails to distinguish between genetics and culture. But this is particularly bad.
It should surely be self-evident that there's no such thing as a single objective measure of beauty or attractiveness and that the whole issue is so personally and culturally clouded as to render slimplistic theories useless.
Bertrand Russell said 'What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence is an index into his desires - desires of which he himself is often unconscious'. I think these guys are trying to build theories with grossly insufficient evidence, and just embarrassing themselves.
I'm more interested that this has gone webwide whereas there was apparently much less scandal over an earlier column where he declared that the USA's response to 9/11 should have been to immediately and without warning destroy the world's 36 most populous Muslim cities with ICBMs.
I only heard about that other case through the reaction to this story (though I had heard of some of his other work before). I wonder whether a suggestion like that was interpreted as satire?
I agree the bit of text about mutations is total garbage. From a scientific angle, it makes me shudder.
Beauty is part genetic fitness and part cultural. eg. People with symmetrical faces are likely to be regarded as attractive as this is an indication of good genes and good health. High status women (ie white as you point out) are also regarded as attractive.
Though funnily enough it appears that ethnicity was not a significant factor in this study
About 20 years ago I used to run a small library in a business training college. Psychology Today was one of the magazines we subscribed to. It tended towards the sensationalist/tabloid even then. Looks like it's carried on the same trajectory.
One thing this does show is how much you can dress up the thinnest nonsense with charts and numbers and people fall for it.
dress up the thinnest nonsense with charts and numbers
Hey, it's a living :-) or it was...