Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The enduring value of first-year survey courses

I continue to believe that one of the most valuable public education strategies we could implement would be to make introductory anthropology mandatory for all university students. Why? Because I learned three very important things when I took ANTH 1000 at Carleton:

1) There is no objective, identifiable scientific quantity which correlates to the sociological fact described by the English word "race".

2) There is no objective, identifiable scientific quantity which correlates to the sociological fact described by the English word "intelligence".


3) You have to be dumb and ugly to write something like "science shows that blacks are stupider than whites, who are stupider than Chinese."

Nevertheless, William Saletan wrote that (more or less) in Slate, and he was following on equally dumb and ugly statements by James Watson. Notice the cover here -- see, James Watson says it, and he's the guy who discovered DNA! So it can't be racist! I know that we're all surprised to find that a man born in 1928 might not have the most enlightened views on race relations...

Meanwhile, you'll note that Watson's original statement got a lot more play by the "hey, let's pretend we're not racists" crowd than his immediate, unconditional and total apology and retraction of those sentiments. When a guy says
To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief.
he's being pretty clear. Watson made a statement; Watson almost immediately retracted the statement and apologized profusely, and I believe sincerely. Funny how Saletan never mentioned that in any of his articles. Would've gotten in the way of his precious series.

Of course, it is racist, it's made of whole cloth, and Slate was good enough to print a pretty humiliating takedown today.

But notice that this particular door only swings one way. Slate (and too many other media) are more than happy to print incredibly stupid, hurtful things if they're given even the barest cover by some controversial statement by someone with some coattails. It doesn't matter that neither Watson not Saletan are experts in psychology, education, or childhood development. But he's "a scientist", so Saletan felt like it was enough.

And then, Saletan has the gall to say that critics who point out that all of his evidence is based on questionable science and shitty math, that critics are just reacting emotionally and unfairly dismissing this stuff.

Well shit. I know how to use a spreadsheet to balance my checkbook every month (not that I actually do this) but that doesn't make me an economist, and Slate wouldn't have given me the time of day if I'd wanted them to publish my advanced theories of mitichlorian-based currencies backed up by my advanced Jedi math. If you don't believe me, that just shows the Hutts have gotten to you, too.

Better media, please.