Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Economist: deluded or dissembling?

No journal can afford to get too far ahead of its readership. I remember being surprised back in 2003 that The Economist was so gung-ho for the Iraq war. My personal view was that the UK had little choice but to go along with the Americans, being the client state it is. However, anyone with the slightest savvy could see that the adventure would have a disastrous outcome.

The whole Sunni-Shia thing was well-understood at the time, and the "export of US-style democracy" - to be welcomed by all shades of 'Iraqi opinion' was as delusional prior to hostilities as subsequently. However, none of this obvious analysis made its way onto the pages of The Economist, and looking at its sales figures in the US, it's obvious why. There are client journals as well as states.

When it comes to science there ought to be less scope for nuance - sometimes arguments are just right or wrong. The issue of race and intelligence (and indeed systematic race personality differences) is just as socially explosive as the Iraq war. It's perhaps the sharpest line of conflict between the growing corpus of results emerging from the application of evolutionary theory to human origins, and the political theories of essential human identity which emerged from the enlightenment and underpin all our liberal political concepts as well as our attempts at social cohesion.

This collision, which will eventually require a new synthesis, is so controversial that it breaks the career of any scientist who publicises the results of scientific work in this area. Watson was the latest, but researchers such as Professors Jensen and Lynn have been personally abused and their work vilified (although not refuted scientifically).

This is a real problem in that it impedes the current revolution in evolutionary psychology, human genetics and evolutionary neuroscience. Something will eventually have to give, as too much work is now going on in these areas for the obsolete 'standard social science model' to endure - but it's going to get ugly.

It's perhaps too much to ask The Economist to be in the vanguard of working out the necessary political and public policy implication of the new science. But we could at least ask it to refrain from actively supporting the reaction with fallacious arguments (see previous post). Sometimes silence really is the best policy.