UPDATE: GNXP has a post up. Watch for comments there. Henry Harpending says the interview was “terrific” and likes Ferguson’s attitude compared to other cultural anthropologists.
John Horgon has a diavlog with cultural anthropologist Brian Ferguson, sometimes called a “neo-Rousseauian” who says warfare is much less common than the conventional scientific wisdom claims and is more subject to specific circumstances than genetically hardwired. He repeats the claim of James Scott I noted earlier that primitive societies today are unrepresentative of the past (horse-backed nomads are right out). He says Napoleon Chagnon’s statistics don’t really support the claim that killing leads to higher reproductive success and leaders of empires like Genghis Khan are relatively modern. He also disagrees with archaeologist James Keeley, author of War Before Civilization, about the archaelogical evidence for ancient warfare. He disagrees with Wrangham (whose book I reviewed here) on chimpanzees, saying the incidents of violence are unusual and likely the result of humans reducing the resources available to them (I think he excuses too much). He says he’d be less surprised by violence among bonobos because he doesn’t think they’re that different from chimpanzees. Stephen Pinker’s Hobbesian optimism is also discussed. If you don’t feel like sitting through the video, this article from Horgan covers basically the same ground. You can read some of Brian’s papers here. Two topics covered in the diavlog but not the article are controversy over anthropologists hired by the military and the high intelligence of the Ashkenazim, specifically referencing Cochran’s article. Ferguson has a 70 page paper attacking it, but it won’t be up at his site for about a week.

In Consilience E. O. Wilson points to anthropologists and sociologists as the social scientific stronghold against Darwinian (or “sociobiological”) explanations and scientific consilience. His tower of disciplinary resistance to general scientific principles has sociology at the top, followed by anthropology then primatology and finally sociobiology. Some exceptions of sociologists amenable to Darwinism are the University of Washington’s Pierre L. van den Berghe (the one name of the list I recognized, even if I don’t remember how I heard it), Minot State’s Lee Ellis, University of Texas’ Joseph Lopreato and Princton’s Walter L. Wallace. In the diavlog Horgon characterizes the running theme of Ferguson’s writings to be resistance to Wilson’s sociobiology. I haven’t read his work myself, but I did not detect the same sort of epistemological resistance to consilience found among many cultural anthropologists (and Mencius Moldbug). Wilson cites Robert Nisbet in claiming that sociology’s roots are as an art rather than a real attempt at science. It was, to use a term MM intends positive connotations for, “literary”. Wilson sees Gary Becker style economics as much more amenable toward scientific consilience and resembling population genetics even if it falls far short. In case the other social science discipline left out I’ll leave an awful quote from the awful Woodrow Wilson. “I do not like the term political science. Human relationships … are not in any proper sense the subject matter of science. They are the stuff of insight and sympathy and spiritual comprehension”. And as a final dig at sociology, a rather p.c theory of gangs is discussed in this OrgTheory post and I mock it in a comment.

On a completely unrelated note, a huge argument began between the leftists and libertarians at TAOTP when Roderick Long accused Noam Chomsky of being a fake anarchist and really a social democrat.

UPDATE 2: Here’s what Greg Cochran has to say:
I read an earlier version of it last year: I was not impressed. One issue was our fault, in that we were unclear: he somehow got the idea that we thought that all of the IQ-boosting was caused by the effects of disease-causing mutations in heterozygotes, mutations like Tay-Sachs That’s not what we think. Strong selection for intelligence would have changed allele frequencies at many loci: the disease mutations are, we think, only a well-studied tip of the iceberg. Ferguson agues that non-genetic social factors had a strong effect on who was rich: we never said otherwisr. Our point weas that genetic causes of even a _small_ fraction of the variance in income were enough to drive selection. For there not to have been any kind of evolutionary change in personality or cognition among the reproductively isolated Ashkenazi Jewish population, which had a _unique_ concentration in white-collar jobs, intelligence would have had to have almost completely decoupled from economic success. It is not so much we were arguing that IQ is all-important in economic success, it is more that Ferguson argued that it makes almost no difference at all. For that to be the case, people with IQs of 85, one standard deviation below average, would have had to be reasonably good at being moneylenders, traders, and estate managers. Today people with IQs of 85 are not successful at comparable jobs, or for that matter very many jobs at all.

Judging from his article, he doesn’t understand quantitative inheritance, population genetics, or general human medical genetics.

He also seems to think that success in a job like moneylending is driven by access to capital: it is of course, but it’s easy to _lose_ that capital if you make too many mistakes. Seems to me that we might be able to think of some contemporary examples, yes? He also thought that Jews could enforce debt collection: that was not always the case, and in fact it was often catastrophically reversed, with debtors helping spark and man pogroms.

Our model suggests that much of the notable achievements and high social status acquired by the Ashkenazi Jews in the United States are the results of innate biological advantages – advantages in the context of this kind of society. This means overrepresentation in bridge tournaments, Putnam exams, as well as corporate CEOs (20-25% Ashkenazi Jews.). Given the structure of the society, we’d say that this success was meritocratic, more or less. It’s hard to see how a bunch of tailors living in East Side tenements pulled this off without native smarts: it’s not as if they were ushered directly from Ellis Island into the Social Register.

He talked about linkage disequilibrium, quotes a source that thought it was higher among the Ashkenazim, a sign of recent founder effects. But we now have enormously more info now (from SNP chips) and we know, for sure, that linkage disequilibrium is almost exactly the same among the Ashkenazim and Northwest Europeans.


I suppose we’ll have to write some sort of response. This is boring: Ferguson doesn’t know his stuff.