Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Satoshi Kanazawa Causes Firestorm After Claiming Black Women Are Less Attractive

Psychology Today blogger Satoshi Kanazawa sparked a firestorm with his latest posting entitled, "A Look at the Hard Truths About Human Nature."

In it, the evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics argues that black women are less physically attractive than other women. The article was quickly removed from the site, but not before screenshots made their way onto BuzzFeed. Some excerpts:
What accounts for the markedly lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women? Black women are on average much heavier than nonblack women. The mean body-mass index (BMI) at Wave III is 28.5 among black women and 26.1 among nonblack women. (Black and nonblack men do not differ in BMI: 27.0 vs. 26.9) However, this is not the reason black women are less physically attractive than nonblack women. Black women have lower average level of physical attractiveness net of BMI. Nor can the race difference in intelligence (and the positive association between intelligence and physical attractiveness) account for the race difference in physical attractiveness among women. Black women are still less physically attractive than nonblack women net of BMI and intelligence. Net of intelligence, black men are significantly more physically attractive than nonblack men. [...]

The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race difference in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.
Kanazawa, whose prior, controversial works can be viewed in part here, was met with widespread backlash. Jenée Desmond-Harris at The Root wrote, "The blog's presentation of the allegedly scientific findings had a decidedly informal tone, especially given the highly contentious conclusions. It struck us as so outrageous that we almost thought it was a hoax of some sort, and we double-checked the URL to make sure it didn't include 'The Onion.'"

Latoya Peterson at Racialicious opined: "Justifying racism using 'science' isn't new, by any means. Every few years, it appears that someone needs to provide a rationale for bigotry, so they publish some sort of madness and hope most of the readers suffer from scientific illiteracy. The problem is that even with a thorough debunking, people latch on to articles like this to confirm their own biases."

Kaja Perina, Psychology Today's editor-in-chief, didn't explain why Kanazawa's piece was removed, however she told NPR, "Our bloggers are credential[ed] social scientists and for this reason they are invited to post to the site on topics of their choosing. We in turn reserve the right to remove posts for any number of reasons. Because the post was not commissioned or solicited by PT (in contrast to a magazine article), there was no editorial intent to address questions of race and physical attractiveness."
Kanazawa hasn't made any public statement, although, as NPR notes, his personal website does disclaim,

"Prepare to be offended."

Story continues from The Guardian.

On Monday, Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, published an article on his Psychology Today blog that sent shockwaves across Twitter and the blogosphere and reminded many of us of just how dangerous this kind of "science" can be.

In his incendiary piece, which has since been taken down, Kanazawa discussed the scientific basis for "why black women are less attractive than any other women". Note that Kanazawa did not claim to have discovered why black women are perceived to be less attractive, or why he believed that black women are less attractive.

After bombarding the reader with colourful bar graphs and a set of numbers, he asserts that he has found the answer as to why black women are "objectively" less attractive than women of any other race, and it has something to do with testosterone and genetic mutations.

Following the backlash that ensued, the headline, "Why are black women less physically attractive than other women?", was first edited, before the article was taken down in its entirety. This is interesting, because it implies that the editors didn't initially accept that there was anything wrong with the article itself – only a headline that needed tweaking. However, even the poorest-performing psychology undergrad at a university at the bottom of any league table will tell you that the article oozes bad science.

From the article, the entire study appears to be based on the perspectives and opinions of adult respondents, Kanazawa reports his findings as "objective facts": that "black women are significantly less attractive than women of other races". He fails to provide information on the sample size for his research, or the social or economic factors (including race) that would have impacted on his findings so that readers can deduce for themselves as to what extent these findings can be generalised across time and space. As some tweeters have noted, it's a classic trick in which pseudoscientists blind you with multicoloured graphs and three decimal place figures to convince lay readers that their research was thorough and is conclusive. I mean, who can argue with three decimal places?

Pseudoscience and racism have a long history together. Many people who read Kanazawa's article were instantly reminded of Nazi claims to Aryan superiority. In his tome The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, Houston Stewart Chamberlain claimed to have discovered biological evidence for Aryan superiority based on his deeply flawed concepts of human speciation. This text and others of its ilk were the basis for the attempted extermination of Jewish people under the Nazi regime but were unfortunately not without precedent. Before Chamberlain there was the likes of Georges Cuvier and his contemporaries, whose treatment of Saartjie Baartman – also known as the Hottentot Venus – early in the 19th century was premised on the apparent biological inferiority of people of African descent, once again "proven" by bad science. Could colonialism or slavery ever have been justified without these and other pseudoscientific claims?

In 2011, we have peer review and editors. So it is of great concern that Psychology Today let Kanazawa's awfully premised, poorly presented and racist article even slip through the cracks. Of course, many social scientists were quick to spot the fallacies in his argument, but these standards don't exist to protect those who work in the ivory tower. They exist to protect the general public that may have nothing more than a passing interest in learning more about the world in which they live.

Kanazawa's article insulted and denigrated women of African descent all over the world, insinuating that some inevitable genetic development forces them to the lowest rung of his imaginary rigid scale of "attractiveness". As if a world in which the images of the most beautiful have oscillated between Michelangelo's Creation of Eve and Iman's statuesque frame could ever have a rigid, scientific standard for "attractiveness".

For his folly, Kanazawa has been duly chastised. But what about Psychology Today? Will they escape censure for letting this offensive tripe go out in the first place? Recalling that this is the same Kanazawa who asserted that he had also "discovered what's wrong with Muslims" in the same rag that published this "attractiveness" study, isn't it about time that someone got hauled over the coals for letting this nonsense go out? Psychology Today has said the article was not specifically commissioned and hasallowed some of its other writers to come out and criticise Kanazawa but has stopped short of issuing an apology for its carelessness.

“Here’s a little thought experiment. Imagine that, on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the President of the United States was not George W. Bush, but Ann Coulter. What would have happened then? On September 12, President Coulter would have ordered the US military forces to drop 35 nuclear bombs throughout the Middle East, killing all of our actual and potential enemy combatants, and their wives and children. On September 13, the war would have been over and won, without a single American life lost.

Yes, we need a woman in the White House, but not the one who’s running.”

Suprising that such filth would come out of a person with probable JAPANESE ancestry -considering what Americans did to Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I digress… 

And will the LSE, still under the spotlight for the Gaddafi fiasco, send a clear signal that it will not tolerate its brand being associated with the kind of eugenic discussion that Kanazawa seems intent on engendering? After all, he has been here before. In November 2006, Kanazawa published a paper in the British Journal of Health Psychology alleging that African states were poor and suffered chronic ill-health because their populations were less intelligent than people in richer countries.
Or are we back to allowing science to be used to justify prejudice?

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