Blinded by Science

I was surprised to see linking to a study reported in the Journal of Human Sexuality, a journal apparently motivated by a “Christian biblical perspective,” and carried out by N.A.R.T.H., the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, another admittedly conservative outfit.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the science behind the study is bogus, but as a heuristic device the confession of a Christian bias is a poor way to convey scientific credibility.

The study purports to show that therapy is successful in helping homosexuals overcome their same-sex attraction over the long term. Prominent gay activist Peter Tatchell believes homosexuals have a choice too – and they ought to embrace it! And in an interview here Steven Pinker states that only about 30-40% of the variance in sexual orientation can be explained by genetic predisposition.

Science says so.

Via Robin Hanson. This method also jibes with David Friedman’s  point on the irrelevance of responsibility. The problem people have with separating moral and practical arguments is one reason I want to strictly segregate the former from the latter (by the is-ought gap) and then abolish it (through non-cognitivism).

That’s one of the topics in a recent diavlog with Glenn Loury (who I last mentioned here) and Josh Cohen. He even gives a shoutout to Charles Murray (while denying he’s asserting a variety of claims, somewhat reminescent of Scalia on Heller and speaking of Heller & bhtv Volokh makes Rakove look ridiculous). It’s a shifting of the discourse, as they say. He also questions how meaningful the opportunity of “equal opportunity” discussed by political philosophers is. Recently at OrgTheory they presented two theories of family influence, and I pointed out the neglected Judith Harris position, but nobody responded until just now when I checked it out to get the link. Bryan Caplan, an adherent of the Harris position, now says he needs to catch up on the latest findings of the field.

I’ve gotten my Harris second-hand, such as through Steven Pinker (still haven’t written a review of Blank Slate like I said I would) and while I still haven’t gotten around to reading her books I just got another Pinker tome, How the Mind Works. I’d promise a review, but as I’ve just noted that isn’t worth much. Tom Wolfe’s Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers is on the way.

We will be genetically engineered and living in bubbles.

A few days ago I finished reading The China Story by Freda Utley. Just last night I finished Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence by Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson. I began the first over a month ago, and the latter when I began my previous post. Part of the difference was that I was reading Utley’s book in pdf form on my computer, and was constantly tempted to look at other stuff on the internet. Another reason is that it’s much more boring. She was personally involved in some of the events discussed, but I did not care to read a chapter focusing on Owen Lattimore. Another blemish in my eyes is that like those she criticizes, she is an idealist with a distaste for self-interested cynical realism. She displayed that in other writings sympathetic to the Palestianians (not unlike several of her comrades of the old right) as well as the defeated Germans after the second world war (this would be sufficient proof of anti-semitism to a modern neo-conservative). Although she had opposed war with Germany (though ironically may bear some responsibility for it, as Japan blamed her for our boycott of them during the Sino-Japanese war) and sought a negotiated peace, in this book she tries to use the ill-repute of the old isolationists to analogize those who were later sympathetic to the Soviet Union and/or Chinese communists. I found that distasteful.

It is enjoyable to read just how wrong so many of the great and good were in their perceptions of the communists, but in hindsight we can see that Utley was wrong about much as well. China did indeed split from the Soviet Union to a degree even greater than Tito. The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in absolutely no diminishing of the political power of the communist party in China. The most interesting part of the book to me was a question Utley posed but never quite answered: why was our policy in Europe (such as toward Greece and Turkey) so different from the one the same people advanced at the same time in East Asia? Her answer is that Americans were more familiar with Europe and viewed its defects as understandable aberrations given the circumstances, but were more likely to look down on backward, corrupt Chinese government. My hypothesis is that they didn’t really care all that much about China, much as with Africa today. Freda cared, and so did her fellow journalists (some of whom, like her, had some affiliation with the communist party) that stayed in China while the Japanese advanced. Many of them were willing to overlook the dark side of the Chinese communists, just as Freda acknowledged Chiang Kai-Shek’s earlier partnership with the communists as well as the Soviet Union and the defects of his own government but stumped for him anyway (the possible difference in reactions may be due to the fact that while in Russia Utley’s husband was killed on suspicion of Trotskyism). One final note I’d like to make is that most histories I’ve read attribute the result of the civil war to the incohesive nature of the Kuomingtang, which was really a collection of warlords prone to break apart, which isn’t really discussed in the book.

The discussion of the next book goes on for a while with lots of summary and a critique of Mencius Moldbug, so I will put it below the fold. (more…)

UPDATE: Scroll to the bottom of this post for what Lauren Landsburg has to say.

I’ve been temporarily banned a number of times, but this one was the last straw. In this thread about James Hansen’s call for putting global warming denying oil executives on trial I assuaged Arnold Kling’s fears for his freedom by saying “The difference between oil executives and Kling is that Kling doesn’t matter. Also, he has less money.” This was ruled ad hominem, and since it was directed at the host and I had been repeatedly warned, I was banished forever.

I don’t see how noting that Kling has less money than an oil executive would merit that, as he has discussed high CEO pay and oil company profits on his blog. So the ad hominem part was that oil company executives matter and Kling does not. If carbon emissions cause warming, then the work oil executives do has a large impact on that warming. These executives have also been in the spotlight when Congress feels it ought to Do Something and they provide funding to people that spread their desired message. So we can say they matter. Does Arnold Kling matter on this issue? Is James Hansen aware of his existence? If he was, would it be worth his time to concern himself with Kling? My guess is no.

In some ways this reminds me of conversations I repeatedly have with Mencius Moldbug and Hopefully Anonymous. The former is talking about overthrowing the current system of government throughout the First World, a plan which now involves restoring the Stuarts. The latter wants to minimize existential risk and discover how to attain immortality, or something close to it. What I tell them is that you don’t matter, I don’t matter, and all the time we spend on the blogosphere will have no effect on the achievement of your goals. The latter at least will learn a few tips about common health and accident risks, but he’s not going to get a new Dr. Ishii cloning massive numbers of Aubrey de Grey and Nick Bostrum.

REPLY FROM LANDSBURG: I sent an e-mail when I found my comment was still up, here is the reply.


> When I checked it out I saw that the comment I was
> banned for was up.

Is that a question? a complaint? a reminder?

Yes, we left the comment up.  Usually it isn't necessary to remove a
comment altogether, even if it's the last straw or the final cause for
permanently banning someone who has been warned repeatedly for crossing
the line.  A comment has to be exceptionally crude or disruptive to be

It was possible to interpret your EconLog comment in various ways, so
taking it down didn't seem necessary.  In fact, someone pointed out
yesterday to me that you argue on your own blog that you intended it as
illustrative.  That argument seems perfectly reasonable.  I probably
picked the wrong comment of yours over which to ban you; but frankly,
you've been gunning for getting banned for a long time.  You've managed
to drive your benefit/cost ratio for EconLog well below 1.

Having to waste my time moderating someone does not exactly endear him
to me. After someone receives multiple warnings, bans, and
reinstatements, even a semblance of an infraction is enough to make it
no longer worth my time to sort it out.

Were you an iota as articulate and respectable on EconLog as you are on
your own blog, almost surely you'd never have gotten moderated, much
less banned.

However, that's all water under the bridge. In your case, banning you
doesn't mean I don't respect you as a thinker or as a writer.  Quite the
opposite, in fact.  However, it does mean that you've not cottoned to
EconLog's standards and style--not even after receiving two reprieves
more than we give most commenters who violate the rules here.

I look forward to continuing to enjoy reading your blog entries, as I
have in the past.

Best regards,


UPDATE 05/10/2021: It has been more than a decade since I was banned, and EconLog not only has a different moderator, but also a different commenting system. Scott Sumner now blogs both there and at his own personal blog, The Money Illusion (where I comment sometimes), and I wanted to reply to an EconLog comment of his and didn’t think the most recent TMI post was a good place for it, so I decided to test if I could comment again. I could.

Check it out.

OB thread on it here. I thought Horgan did a poor job, but I’ve always preferred George Johnson on Science Saturday to him anyway.

I’m in the middle of reading a discussion between Jim Manzi, Razib and Steve Sailer (UPDATE: and Mencius too) on genetic determinism and Social Darwinism. In the middle of it a TAS contributor linked to an old post of his on political scientist Bruce Bueno de Mesquita who I just can’t shut up about at Unqualified Reservations (or here). I wouldn’t have thought of associating the two subjects (though JA’s comment was not a non-sequitur) and found it a bit creepy for two disparate interests of mine to come together. It kind of reminds me of how I hear of stuff at the Hoover Hog I never would have thought of that nearly invariably fascinate me (though perhaps an initial good impression causes me to make a biased evaluation). Is it a downer to imagine that I’m not a unique person with an eclectic curiosity but rather a common type whose reactions one might be able to predict? I would say no but I suspect Hopefully Anonymous would accuse me of being of just that type to “perform” seemingly hard-headed deprecation of feel-good idealism.

I Row-Boat by Cory Doctorow. I heard of it via The View From Hell, the blog of a “non-practicing suicide”. The host of that blog, who goes by the name “Curator” has also been assisting Jim the anti-natalist against Hopefully Anonymous in the most extreme pro-natalist post I’ve come across. That post in turn is probably inspired by Eliezer Yudkowkskie’s magnum opus sci-fi fable that sums up a great deal of what he’s  written at Overcoming Bias and how it relates to his life’s work.

Perhaps it’s not meaningless to talk about what happened before the Big Bang. Perhaps there were many (infinitely many?) Big Bangs before it, randomly appearing after quasi-eternities of nothingness. Sean Carrol claims the Arrow of Time should go backwards and forwards in a symmetric or indistinguishable manner here, though locally (after our recent Big Bang) it seems to go from low entropy to high entropy. Found via this post, in turn found via MR.

If you’ve heard about this “dissonance” stuff but don’t know what it is and would like a video of a hot psychology professor explaining it, look no further. I experienced dissonance as I both enjoyed the diavlog and remembered this critique of the monkey M&M study which is brought up. Another subject discussed in loss aversion, which I would strangely experience to a great degree when I played video games that I could always reload/replay with no permanent consequence. Mrs. Santos’ future plans include advertisements directed at monkeys, which I would really like to see.

Robin Hanson points out some self-replicating-machine news here. Greg Cochran envisioned a post-replicator world in his response to the 2007 Edge Question.

I found this link via Fark. Some violent criminals have attempted a defense based on their genes predisposing them to violent anti-social behavior. Some variants mentioned are MAO-A and AVPR1a, which you may be familiar with if you read Gene Expression. At least on one occasion the defendant got off on the basis of his act not being a result of “free will” due to his genetic condition. I of course find the entire concept of “free will” to be incoherent and a blemish on our justice system. A sensible take on the issue is in Greene & Cohen’s “For the law, neuroscience changes nothing and everything“. If you really are hard-wired to kill, all the more reason to get rid of you as we might a rabid dog.

Texas A&M Electrical Engineering students design robot that plays Guitar Hero.

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