Long before I started Psychological Comments I tried to read as widely as possible about new methods in genetic research. I eventually found a blog called Gene Expression written by the extremely talented Razib Khan, and he and his commentators contributed greatly to my education.
It took a while before I felt I could ask questions, and over the years we have had the very occasional discussion about topics like genetic regression to the mean, on which his replies were always helpful. I admired Razib for the immense scope of his knowledge, and felt I had lost a friend and a meeting place when, after many years of hard work, he moved on from Gene Expression to other projects.
Now we have the news that he had been appointed as a commentator to The New York Times, and then unceremoniously dumped a day later. His crime? Racism.
Call me naive, but I find this very odd. Razib’s main area of expertise is genetics. He takes genetic papers apart, explains, comments, re-works data, brings in further material and proceeds carefully, weighing up evidence cautiously. He is not the sort of genetics researcher who imagines that one finding proves a case. He also knows a lot about the genetics of intelligence. He is not an ignorant or blinkered man, by any stretch of the feverish imagination. As part of his generally mild manner, he is even forgiving when he himself becomes the subject of unwarranted assumptions based on his own genetic background. As far as I can recall, he expressed mild irritation at the silliness of these racially based views, and continued his work without further reference to those instances of prejudgment. He is not some who, in Hazlitt’s marvellous exposition, is prejudiced.
Prejudice is prejudging any question without having sufficiently examined it, and adhering to our opinion upon it through ignorance, malice or perversity, in spite of every evidence to the contrary.
Razib examines matters carefully, adjusts to new findings, and is not guilty of ignorance, malice or perversity.
So, what has he done? Has he launched a tirade against a racial group, using foul and demeaning language? Has he, in act of self-hate, turned on descendants of Ghengis Khan, accusing them of being too bright for their own good, and apt to invade other countries?
Nope. He has written to and commented upon and linked to other sites which other people have been judged racist: Taki magazine and Vdare. And that is it. Tainted conversations with tainted persons on tainted subjects.
Some time ago I decided to keep a list of contemporary definitions of racism. I had thought, when I was teaching social psychology courses year ago, that racism was unfounded pejorative attitudes and behaviour directed at people solely because of their race. I find that the concept has been subject to mission creep, and the list of definitions has become bewilderingly long. I will try to post about that another day.
Razib does not want any of this to be any big deal. A newspaper which appoints a person one day and then demotes them the next has neither courage nor the capacity to do its basic homework. If you don’t want someone who knows about genetics on your newspaper, don’t hire him in the first place.
So, Razib does not consider himself Watson’d in the usual sense of losing a job and then being unable to work as before. On the contrary, he has probably had a lucky escape from a gutless editor. Better to find that out within a day than years later in the middle of a big story about genetics.
Still, it is a great sadness when a major newspaper, or even a formerly major newspaper, is run by gutless and gormless editors.