Banding with the might of Voltron, readers across the Internet have joined together to smite the evil rantings of one Mr. Satoshi Kanazawa who dared pen a blog post entitled: Why Black Women are Unattractive. Individual bloggers, groups of bloggers, blog websites and even a consortium of his colleagues have been roused from their collective slumber to sling arrows at Kanazawa for his work which I guarantee would not have received 1/100th of this attention had the world just ignored his writing after Psychology Today took it off of their website.
Now the cat is out of the bag and every social commentator and two bit political and scientific theorist can sift through the bones of Kanazawa’s academic corpse to find some tasty morsel to comment upon. Count me out. I’m less concerned with him than I am with the general idiocy that is always associated with pseudo-science.
Most Americans know little or nothing about science and have a blind level of respect for the words of people with PhDs. I know this to be true; I have one, and you probably believe what I’m writing right now. This is not entirely our fault, science education is an elective in most high schools after 8th grade. Once we make that baking soda volcano in Earth science we’re good to go.
Chemistry, physics, mathematics and even the social sciences like psychology, political science and sociology are abstract concepts to most people in this country and the moment those terms are uttered most people assume the person with the title is smart. I mean, they have a PhD right? That’s the reason why the public will listen to John McWhorter wax poetic about politics when his degree is in linguistics, or why anyone will listen to Marc Lamont Hill talk about the presidential election when his degree is in educational anthropology, or how Dr. Laura had millions hanging off her every word for years but didn’t have a PhD in psychology. Did you ever wonder why everyone just listened to The Professor on Giligan’s Island but no one really had a clue what he was a professor of? He was probably an adjunct English professor at a community college - which is part of why it took him almost five seasons to get them off an island when Cubans managed to do it every weekend.
It’s just like what Jay-Z said about rappers like Nas. “Just ’cause he wears a kufi, doesn’t mean that he’s bright.”
All of this brings us to Satoshi Kanazawa, a professor of Evolutionary Psychology at the London School of Economics. Because he is a professor, at a prestigious school, many people have responded to his article Why Black women are Rated Unattractive as if he knows what he’s talking about.
He doesn’t, but by spending so much time trolling through the entrails of his work to “debunk” them we are giving him more credit than he deserves. It’s like analyzing the diary of a 14 year old girl — it may be passionate but it really has no bearing on the rest of the universe. But the point isn’t whether the work was any good, but why anyone is giving this man the time of day to begin with? Is he running a fashion magazine? Is he in charge of scholarships and admissions at the London School of Economics? Will anyone remember his name in two weeks? The answer to these and many other relevant questions is a resounding NO. Let his colleagues slap him down once more and we should move on. This is a guy who is referred to as The Great Idiot of Social Science by more than one of his colleagues even BEFORE this recent controversy so this work should come as no surprise.
This is not the kind of science that we need to worry about, Kanazawa is not affecting policy or anyone’s real future. As a college student in the 1990s I was smack dab in the middle of the debate about The Bell Curve, the book by Harvard Professors Richard J. Hernstien and Charles Murray that advised politicians to stop creating social policies to help the poor since poor people were less intelligent and couldn’t be helped anyway. And by the way, blacks and Latinos are poor so you can figure out the rest. That book was a best seller. That book became the bible of the anti-affirmative action crowds of the 1990s, the Ward Connerlys and Jennifer Gratzs of the world. It was a time for all right thinking Americans to get over their awe and ignorance of science and change the public discourse before the nation got swept up in a wave of neo-eugenics masquerading as benevolent social policy. These were dangerous people peddling dangerous ideas that needed to be stopped. Kanazawa is just some joke on minute 16 of his 15 minutes of MySpace fame.
This will not be the last fake science story to hit the internet nor will it even be the most volatile. There are plenty of other eugenicists and bigots out there pretending that innocent forays into science have coincidentally proven long standing white supremacist belief systems. The important thing for men and women of good conscience to remember it this — Having an advanced degree doesn’t necessarily make someone smarter, or more knowledgeable about a subject it just means they can do a better job justifying whatever it is they believed before they put pen to paper.
This article orginally appeared in TheLoop21.com under the headline “Psychology Today’s Beauty Bell Curve Proves a PhD is Just Paper.”