Some Comments on the RationalWiki Page About Me

Responds to misleading and tendentious statements on the recently-created RationalWiki page about me

[Update: a newer FAQ is available here.]

Someone has created a RationalWiki page about me. For those unfamiliar with the site, RationalWiki is a left-wing version of Wikipedia whose contributors often target people that have expressed opinions or done research which conflicts with left-wing sacred values.

A number of esteemed public intellectuals can already boast RationalWiki pages, including Sir Roger Scruton, Sam Harris, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Jordan Peterson, Claire Lehmann, Majid Nawaz and Nassim Taleb. While some of these pages are reasonably accurate and even-handed, others fail to uphold even a pretence of objectivity. For example, Sir Roger Scruton’s page states, “he often comes across as a cranky old grandpa”, while Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s states, “she is married to wingnut historian Niall Ferguson” (as of 16th September, 2018).

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of misleading or tendentious statements on my RationalWiki page, which I will respond to here.

First, I would like to address the claim that I am an “HBD pseudoscientist”. The most likely reason for this designation is that I attended and spoke at the London Conference on Intelligence, an academic conference held for several years in London, which dealt with topics such as population differences in cognitive ability (as well as many other topics). The conference was widely mischaracterised in the media, and some of us who attended responded via a peer-reviewed correspondence in the journal Intelligence. To quote from our correspondence:

Contrary to allegations, the annual LCI conference was not secret but invitation only (like many small conferences). The attendees had a range of theoretical orientations and research interests, and their attendance does not imply agreement with the views of all of the other attendees, be they political, moral or scientific… The overwhelming preponderance of talks dealt exclusively with data or substantive theory. Moreover 48% of talks were associated with (either based on or in most cases yielding) ‘mainstream’ publications over four years… Finally, the speakers originated from 13 different countries in total, including Japan, China, Brazil and Slovakia, thus the conference can reasonably be described as cosmopolitan as opposed to “white supremacist” in character

RationalWiki seems to follow a rather simple rule, namely that if you are interested in population differences in cognitive ability, then you are––ipso facto––a “pseudoscientist”. In this regard, it is noteworthy that distinguished (left-wing) philosopher and psychometrician James Flynn has recently written the following in the pages of a scientific journal:

There should be no academic sanctions against those who believe that were environments equalized, genetic differences between black and white Americans would mean that blacks have an IQ deficit… The hypothesis is intelligible and subject to scientific investigation. If that is so, you must have already investigated it if you are to know what is true or false.

Hence according to Flynn, not only is it meaningful to ask whether there are population differences in cognitive ability, but it is also meaningful to ask whether those differences are genetic in origin. (Note, this is not to say that the differences actually are genetic in origin.) I will leave it for the reader to decide whether Professor Flynn or RationalWiki constitutes more of an authority on this subject.

Second, I would like to mention that I have already responded to the criticisms of my paper about the relationship between immigrant crime rates and immigration policy preferences in the UK. (Naturally, my response to these criticisms is not referenced on the RationalWiki page; as of 16th September, 2018).

Third, I would like to note that the paper of mine “defending race and intelligence research” is actually rather germane in the present context. To quote myself:

equating particular scientific statements with racism is not merely logically fallacious, but potentially unethical too. The reason being that it may end up encouraging precisely the behaviour that it aims to forestall. Suppose for the sake of argument that, one day in the future, evidence for a genetic contribution to psychological differences between human populations becomes so overwhelming that it cannot be reasonably denied… If between now and then, anyone who claims that genes might contribute to psychological group differences is pilloried as a ‘racist’, when the evidence eventually does become overwhelming, a much greater number of people are likely to take it as “scientific proof that racism was right all along”

In other words, doing what RationalWiki is in the habit of doing (i.e., casually smearing anyone who is interested in population differences in cognitive ability as a “pseudoscientist”) is potentially unethical. After all, the way to combat racism is to point out that racism is morally wrong, not to deny the possibility of certain scientific discoveries. As the estimable psychologist Steven Pinker notes, “political equality is a moral stance, not an empirical hypothesis”.

Fourth, RationalWiki claims I am “right-wing”, on the basis that I have ‘liked’ the Facebook pages for Enoch Powell, Sir Roger Scruton and Jacob Rees-Mogg, as well as The American Conservative and Oxford University Conservative Association (as of 6th Novemeber, 2018). For an organisation that purports to analyse and refute “psuedoscience”, this is a particularly flagrant case of cherry-picking. Anyone who wishes to visit my Facebook page will see that I have also ‘liked’ the pages for G.A. Cohen, George Orwell and Cornell West, as well FiveThirtyEight, Vox and Jacobin. Yes, most of the people I have been influenced by would generally be considered right-wing or conservative, but this does not mean I am “right-wing” in the simplistic sense that RationalWiki uses the term. On a number of issues I take right-wing stances, on other issues libertarian stances, and on still others left-wing stances. In addition, unlike many people, I read news sources from across the political spectrum, including all those mentioned above.

Fifth, RationalWiki laughably claims that I reviewed one of my own papers in Open Psych, and then tried to “cover up the evidence” afterwards (as of 12th November, 2018). As a matter of fact, the paper in question was an editorial, and hence was not reviewed by anyone, as indicated––rather obviously––by the appearance of the word ‘Editorial’ in the title, and the absence of any review thread in the Open Psych forum. (When the paper was originally uploaded, the names of the authors were accidentally listed as reviewers too. When this error was detected, all names were removed from the list of reviewers.) Anyone in doubt about this can click on the ‘Review thread’ link, and see that no such thread exists––which again, is due to the fact that paper was an editorial.

Sixth, RationalWiki claims that one of my papers “relies on a right-wing Islamophobic website for data”, as if this fatally undermines the paper’s analyses. The website to which RationalWiki is referring is called TheReligionOfPeace.com. This website, which it would be reasonable to describe as ‘anti-Islam’, has compiled a list of Islamist attacks carried out in different countries around the world since 9/11. Among other things, my paper showed that two measures of Islamist terrorism computed using TheReligionOfPeace.com’s data were strongly correlated with two other measures computed using data from completely different sources (namely Europol, and the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

Moreover, in a subsequent paper, I acknowledged the shortcomings of the TheReligionOfPeace.com’s data, and then went through the entire list, eliminating all those incidents that did not meet a strict definition of Islamist terrorism. Overall, the results I obtained were similar to those I had obtained in my original analysis. Interestingly, the two new measures of Islamist terrorism computed using data from TheReligionOfPeace.com were again strongly correlated with the two other measures. All the data and code for both papers are already posted online.

I do not consider the analyses in these papers to be ‘Islamophobic’ (please read them for yourself). Indeed, examining the relationship between the presence of Muslims and the incidence of Islamist terrorism is now a lively area of scholarly research (see the brief literature review on p. 3 of my most recent paper.) Some important contributions to this literature include: the paper by Thomas Hegghammer, the paper by Efraim Benmelech and Esteban Klor, and the paper by Tamar Mitts. Of course, it goes without saying that only a small minority of Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslims.