Saturday, May 28, 2011

"You are RACIST!" is not an argument.

This morning I stumbled out of bed and fell in front of my computer, so I determined I should do some perusing of CNN and other news sites. I came across the following article in the opinions section on

Black women ugly? Says who?

The post, by sport columnist LZ Granderson, discusses a somewhat controversial blog post by author and Psychology Today blogger Satoshi Kanazawa on the topic of relative attractiveness between woman of different races.
The blog, titled Why Are Black Woman Less Physically Attractive Than Other Woman was removed from the Psychology Today website, but can be found here.

On reading Mr. Granderson's opinion article, and the many comments posted in response, I was struck by how much hatred and bile there is on both sides of the topic, and how reasonable people posting their opinion were attacked from members of both camps.

Lets start where I did, with LZ's post.

My mother is a black woman.
And she is beautiful.
So to the editors of Psychology Today who thought it was a good idea to post a blog item calling black women ugly, I suggest you watch your back... my mother's cubs are looking for you.
And we are not happy.

A sports writer writer making veiled threats towards the editors of Psychology Today over a blog he finds insulting? Talk about fortifying a stereotype of the angry black man. At this point I skipped over to the blog that had caused such a response.

The basic gist of the blog is that the author believes that statistics he presents show that people feel that black woman are less attractive than woman of other races. Note that the source of the statistics were done by survey, and taken from population samples that are not clearly defined in the blog. His methods, data and experimental construction are not alluded to in his blog, nor are there any references cited.

At this point, Satoshi attempts to determine and speculate on the mechanisms for this data, and does so by some pretty murky and unsupported reasoning, including a reference to a prior blog of his as a supporting datum. 

The blog post was a laughable piece of so called science, and easily attacked and dismissed scientifically even on first glance. Regardless of the validity of the observations, i.e. if in fact statistically black woman are less attractive than other races, he did not present his data in a way that can be examined independently nor tested, and thus the data, not to mention his conclusions, are highly suspect.

Note that I was not immediately pissed off by the title of the blog, or its message. The author could have stated the same conclusion about asian woman, or white woman etc. Since it was proported to be on a website run by a scientific journal, I was interested to see the data. (Lets see the data is the principle response of a scientist after all.)

Personally, I am not attracted to most black woman, or most native American woman. I prefer brunets over blonds, smaller breasts over large breasts etc. Those are my personal preferences, and the roots of those preferences are a complex interaction between genetic programming, my cultural and social up-bringing, and who know what else.

Understanding those preferences, and indeed how such interactions on a wider social scale may contribute to the perception of attractiveness is an interesting topic for science to investigate.

However, according to LZ, and many people who commented on his blog, such a preference is "RACIST!"

Back to LZ's blog post.

I do not dispute Kanazawa's credentials as an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, but I do wonder why he even approached the topic.

Hey LZ... why not approach the topic?
In science, no topic is verboten. Any subject, no matter how distasteful, or politically incorrect should be explored, discussed, researched and evaluated. Scientific censorship is a large contributor to scientific illiteracy.

Also, if you cannot dispute Kanazawa's credentials, then dispute his data in a fashion that is not attacking his character. If the data is trash, then any conclusions are trash. At this point step off, because the topic is over with, and your point made.

If a well thought out and implemented study shows that indeed black woman are found to be less attractive than woman of other races, then that is empirical data that can explored for causative reasons.

Calling the study "Racist" is incorrect. The root cause of the trend may be in part due to cultural racism, or it may not be, but to call people who conduct such studies racist, or to attempt to suppress such study as racist is wrong. Debate the science methodology, do not suppress it as politically incorrect. And yes, from your editorial, you would attempt to suppress such research. Shame on you.

I challenge LZ to aquatint himself with the scientific method (and Satoshi would do well with doing the same it seems) so that he can challenge the merits of the statistics and the study rather than taking the lazy (and cowardly) way out and yelling out "Racist!"

Finally, LZ should consider how his call to arms for people to suppress scientific discourse of uncomfortable topics is itself the epitome of scientific (and cultural) illiteracy.

Monday, May 23, 2011