The Growth Of Science Denialism: "Anthropologists Take Up Arms Against ‘Race Science’"
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From Science:

Anthropologists take up arms against ‘race science’

At their annual meeting, biological anthropologists began to build a playbook to thwart racist misuse of research


Anthropologists are fighting the erroneous notion that humans are divided into a few separate races. They emphasize that human genes and populations show complex patterns of variation and mixing.

LOS ANGELES—Calling someone a Neanderthal was once an insult, meaning you thought of them as a knuckle-dragging brute. “[Neanderthals] have always been used as a mirror for thinking about ourselves … projecting things we don’t like about ourselves onto another group of humans,” said Fernando Villanea, a population geneticist at the University of Colorado Boulder, last week at the annual meeting of the American Association of Biological Anthropologists (AABA) here.

As scientists have learned more about Neanderthals’ cultural sophistication and abilities, though, their public image has gotten a glow-up. For some people, their status was elevated still further by the widely publicized discovery in 2007 that some Neanderthals carried genes suggesting they had red hair and light skin. These ancient inhabitants of Europe and Asia became coded as white, and on social media some people began to claim Neanderthal ancestry as a mark of racial superiority.

Such misuse of science spurred researchers to organize an AABA symposium devoted to combating race science, or the idea that genes and other biological variation can be used to sort humans into races—some superior to others.

Villanea and other symposium speakers urged attendees to engage head-on with potential racist misuse of their data, and to proactively make their work’s conclusions unambiguous. “In the rotten harvest yielded by race science, research has real-world consequences,” said Charles Roseman, an integrative biologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who helped organize the symposium.

When it comes to Neanderthals, claiming a connection as a mark of European pride makes little sense, Villanea said. Recent research suggests Neanderthal ancestry is widely shared among global populations, including some in Africa. What’s more, according to some recent studies, South Asia, not Europe, contains the greatest diversity of Neanderthal genes.

Yet those are nuances in a picture of human variation—which is both what biological anthropologists study and what racists seize on. That’s why trying to present anthropological work “impartially,” letting the data speak for itself, leaves the door open to co-option, said Robin Nelson, a biological anthropologist at Arizona State University. …

Rebecca Sear, an anthropologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, is targeting problematic papers. She’s been on a quest to convince journals to retract articles based on widely discredited data from Ulster University psychologist and self-described “scientific racist” Richard Lynn, who died last year. In 2002, Lynn and colleagues published a “national IQ data set” based on IQ tests given in 81 nations, then extrapolated those scores for an additional 104. Among other faults, Lynn’s methods included “wholly” unrepresentative sampling, and cognitive tests of a kind that could not allow valid comparisons between populations, Sear notes. Psychologists and anthropologists alike have roundly described the data as worthless, yet some academic studies still cite them.

Sear contacted the editors or publishers of 12 journals about 14 papers that used Lynn’s data set. Most editors declined to take any action; others added a note of caution to the manuscript but did not retract it. One exception was the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. In what Sear described as a “ray of hope,” editors there responded promptly to her complaint about a June 2010 paper linking the worldwide distribution of parasite prevalence to the cognitive variations Lynn claimed to have mapped. They investigated and retracted the paper earlier this month.

In reality, Lynn and Vanhanen’s pioneering 2002 database has led to a huge growth in more sophisticated databases of national average cognitive test scores. There are now six major databases, including one maintained by the World Bank, with Lynn’s own 2012 database being one of them.

They are all, not surprisingly, improvements over Lynn’s old 2002 compilation. But mostly they’ve replicated the general patterns Lynn saw in 2002.

… Tina Lasisi, a biological anthropologist at the University of Michigan who acted as discussant for the symposium, welcomed the proposals but warned that simply trying to clarify the technical details of a study isn’t likely to persuade people already convinced of racial differences. “Who are we arguing with when we get into the nitty-gritty?” she said. “Is statistics the right arena for having this fight?”

In other words, we, the Good People, keep losing scientific debates with them, the Bad People.

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