Friday, August 26, 2005

Junky Science Friday

Both Gilliard and Atrios take Andrew Sullivan to task for yet again endorsing The Bell Curve. My first exposure to the "classical liberal" Sullivan was actually his endorsment of the book - along with his subsequent self-congratulation - so I've never understood why anyone ever mistook him for someone with anything interesting to say. The absolute nadir was actually his article in some British rag reprinted in Left Hooks, Right Corsses where, among other things, he claims that his most interesting discovery on this journey through the pseudo-verse was the unearthing of a societal "taboo". It was, as I learned later, a technique of which Sullivan seemed to be the lone master: Inspire a pointless debate about a semi-controversial subject supposedly in the name of "free inquiry", then stand back in feigned utter amazement that the "facts" of the case supported some conservative cause or other. It was disgusting in the early 1990's and it's disgusting now. For Sullivan to claim that a book which contained serious errors in its calculations "holds up" seriously counts the guy out as any sort of public intellectual. ARE YOU EFFIN' KIDDING ME? What he means is that the controversy he stirred up "holds up". The actual work the authors of the book did does not.

However, since Sullivan is attempting to make the tripe current again, it's worth revisiting, I guess. My favorite critique came from Chomsky, who simply wrote that a study such as the one Murray and Hernstein were conducting was not done in the spirit of free inquiry, but in the spirit of ideology. There's just no question worth an answer there, unless you've got some sort of un-scientific agenda. When friends of mine would ask me about my opinion of the book, I'd normally say, "Yeah, well, I'm working on a study on the distribution of IQ among people of different heights. So far short people are coming out way ahead. My next study will be about the distribution of IQ between nail-biters and non-nail biters." What's the point of gathering such information based on arbitrary distinctions? Substitute "tall", "medium" and "short" for the racial categories they used into the policy prescriptions and social predictions that they made and try to stop laughing. That Sullivan made his name on such pandering and posing, which in my mind opened the door to the Coulters of the world, should tell us all we need to know about our "liberal media".

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