« on: March 03, 2012, 11:26:03 pm »
I'm currently reading The Mismeasure of Man by SJ Gould, which is about the historical use of quantitative measures of intelligence (through brain size, skull size, IQ, and other numbers) to justify racism, sexism, and classism.
I am finding myself entirely fascinated by this, partly because just about every scientist of the 19th century (including Charles Darwin, a known abolitionist) was racist to some degree, and used evolutionary argument to support these social constructions. And the way they went about it was the backwards version of scientific method, despite these being scientists in all other respects. They started with socially generated racial stereotypes and then, more or less unconsciously, found their data to fit the conclusions. I'm not saying they fabricated the data, rather, they inserted ad hoc hypotheses to explain why the data didn't fit with their conclusions in an effort of immense cognitive bias. The anthropologists were the worst of them; if I'm to understand correctly, the whole field was originally created as unconscious think tank to justify Caucasian male superiority. It was almost evangelical, with evolutionary theory twisted to support a "hierarchy of man" with very precise, yet ultimately mishandled, measurements. Some of the worst offenders being Louis Agassiz, who was otherwise a world renowned glacial geologist and morphologist of fishes, and Paul Broca, the neuroanatomist who discovered the speech center of the brain.
Despite scientific racism being put out of style in the last 50 years (most scientists these days would be horrified at the idea), I can still see these same issues going on in medicine and psychology to target other groups, including women, homosexuals, and other "social deviants".
Take the Duesberg anti-AIDS type schtick. It is almost formulaic of Broca's style: take a social stereotype ("homosexuality is not innate, it is a lifestyle choice, and furthermore immoral"), choose an area of measurement (in this case, African population dynamics), pick the data for measurements that support the stereotype, and present the argument so it leads to the conclusions you desire ("since HIV doesn't lead to AIDS, it must be a disease in gay men brought on by drug use"). Shift the argument as needed to account for refuting evidence. This is not science, yet it looks scientific because there are numbers involved. And people take it seriously because it supports their prejudices.
You can even find these sorts of arguments outside of social concerns. Those people who still deny that birds are dinosaurs, for example. They start with a conclusion ("only birds have feathers"), see fossils with feathers (even Dromaeosauridae fossils), and present their argument ("they can't be dinosaurs [even though we labeled them such before we knew they had feathers] because they have feathers, therefore they are birds"). Shift the argument for every new feathered fossil found. Or, for example, when that T-rex hemoglobin was discovered, and found to be very similar to chicken hemoglobin.
The worst part about all of this is that the manipulation, the self-deception, is largely unconscious on the part of the people involved. They do not see how their own biases are shaping their conclusions. They think they are just following data.