Dangerous questions (Was: META: Neanderthal attitudes)

David Lubkin (lubkin@unreasonable.com)
Mon, 27 Sep 1999 20:50:35 -0400

On 9/4/99, at 3:42 AM, Matt Gingell wrote:

>But you can’t separate science from its social consequences. How big a step is
>it from ‘Blacks are better athletes’ to ‘Blacks are less intelligent: When we
>captured slaves, we obviously only brought back the ones who didn’t get away –
>the least fit/clever. When we bought slaves from local tribes, we were a
>lucrative and easy way of getting rid of the least productive, most troublesome
>members of the community.’ Now this should really make the hairs on the back of
>your neck stand up, but there are people who’ll say ‘Hey, it’s just science – it
>’s objective reality. I’m not a racist, Blacks are just dumb.’ That gets turned
>into social policy – we pay less attention to crime and poverty in black
>communities, and put the money where it can do some good: clever, college bound,
>suburban white-boys.

I have found that many people feel there are questions that should not be asked, apparently because they are convinced that they already know the True Answer, or because asking the question invites other people to twist the results for their own purposes. And if you propose to ask these questions, you are often met with accusations that you are racist, sexist, homophobic, or some other -ist or -ic.

As persons of scientific bent, how shall we regard such questions? Do we consider the misuse that research into questions like these may lead to? If any of the above is true, what uses of this information is legitimate?

One position is Arthur Kantrowitz's, who argues that in science and in public policy we must always determine what the facts are first, before any considerations of values come in.

And what percentage of Americans truly understand that statistically valid results say nothing about how an individual should be treated?

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