Response to RationalWiki
Recently, somebody (or some people) created a RationalWiki page dedicated to me. It is full of half-truths, mendacities, and out-of-context quotes. At first, I just ignored it. However, it has intruded upon my professional life, so I feel it necessary to respond. I will address the mendacities and misleading statements below.
The first sentences about me read thus:
“Bo Winegard is an American hereditarian psychologist and pseudoscience promoter associated with the online “race realist” community. He writes racist bullshit for the right-wing online magazine Quillette and surrounds himself with white nationalists, but complains if he is labelled one.”
Needless to say, this is not a dispassionate account of my beliefs or my professional life. It’s an ideologically motivated smear job. To the best of my knowledge, I do not promote “pseudoscience.” I am certain that I am wrong about a number of things. But I am open to evidence. And I would never willingly promote something that I knew was false. I have made no attempt to “surround” myself with “white nationalists”. Most of my friends are liberal to progressive.
My page then claims: “Winegard supports “ethno-traditionalism”, which is more or less white nationalism repackaged and relabelled, so he can simultaneouslydefend white nationalists, while denying accusations of racism. Clever guy.”
This is mendacious because “ethno-traditionalism” is absolutely not “white nationalism” relabeled. Here, for example, is an article by Eric Kaufmann that covers this in detail
And I support cultural nationalism anyway, which is, I think, a more appropriate term for the kind of vision I have about the virtues of national identity. Also, I have never defended white nationalism qua white nationalism — in fact, I have argued against it on a number of occasions.
The page continues: “Winegard believes that race is a biological reality, white people have superior IQs predominantly because of genes and that skull shapes and measurements can determine human races by continental ancestry.”
I do believe that race, properly understood, is a “biological reality.” However, I am open to the term human populations. All experts agree that humans vary because of cultural and genetic adaptations. The only debate is about how best to classify that variation. I think race works reasonably well, but is, unfortunately, a divisive term.
I also think that persistent IQ differences between human populations likely have a genetic component (as do many experts on the topic). However, I don’t think that “white people have superior IQs.” In fact, it’s much more complicated than that. Ashkenazi Jewish people score highest on IQ tests, followed by Northeast Asians. I have never written (and notice that the page does not quote me here) that “white people have superior IQs.” That is a clumsy way to address a complicated issue.
I do think that researchers can categorize skulls by ancestry (depending upon the granularity of the categories used) reasonably accurately. To my knowledge, no critic of this has ever forwarded evidence that it’s not true. Here is a brief blog on the topic by John Hawkes. There is plenty more in the peer-reviewed literature. Many people have conflated this with phrenology which is like conflating astronomy with astrology. My best guess is that people do this purposefully to besmirch my reputation, because it is so clearly ludicrous.
The page then claims that “Winegard spends most of his time on Twitter talking about race and the alleged evils of liberalism.”
This is false. I haven’t done a content analysis of my tweets, but I am very confident that less than 5% of them are about race. And I respect liberalism a great deal. I do, however, worry about radical progressivism. And I do worry about liberal bias in the social sciences. Odd as this may be to the person (s) who wrote my page, I have never voted for a Republican in my life. I voted for Obama twice and Hillary once. I have, however, become more and more disgruntled with the direction of the current Democratic party.
It goes on: “He retweets Nathan Cofnas, Charles Murray, Noah Carl, Emil Kirkegaard, James Thompson and other alt-righter “race realists”. Winegard identifies as a member of the alt-center which is basically an attempt by white nationalists in the alt-right to re-brand themselves as political moderates”
I have retweeted every person mentioned in this list. But I have also retweeted progressives and “never-Trumpers.” I follow a motley crew of people on Twitter because I think that it’s important to view and contend with a variety of political opinions.
The claim that I identify as a member of the “alt-center” is amusing. I think I wrote that once as a joke. Apparently the person (or people) who wrote my RationalWiki page took it seriously. I have no idea what the “alt-center” even is. I am a pragmatic centrist, somewhat socially conservative but economically progressive. But, my views change with evidence, so I hate to classify my political opinions.
The introduction to my page concludes: “Winegard is a supporter of so-called scientific racism, writing “empirical facts cannot be sexist or racist”
Of course, I do not support “scientific racism” (and I’m not even certain what it is) and have strongly urged people to treat others as individuals, not as tokens of categories. I have included such warnings and admonitions in every paper I have written about human variation. It is a clear tell about the biases of my page that the author(s) failed to include a single quote of mine that discusses the importance of tolerance and respect for diversity. I don’t think facts can be sexist or racist. And I don’t understand how they could be. What would it even mean for a fact to be sexist? At any rate, I do stand behind that sentiment. People can be sexist. Institutions can be sexist. But facts cannot be.
My page excoriates me for defending Emil Kirkegaard, an independent scholar, who, by his own account, does not entirely understand social decorum. I do not know what is in Emil Kirkegaard’s heart, and I don’t know why it’s particularly important that I do. It is likely that I disagree with many of Kirkegaard’s positions. And I definitely would not endorse some of his tweets or jokes. However, I also don’t think he is a “bad” human being, whatever that might mean, and I have profited from exchanges with him. Even if he were a loathsome person, I would still try to persuade him to relinquish his loathsome beliefs. I think discourse is generally the best way to change people’s minds.
Then the page again claims that “cultural nationalism” is really “white nationalism.” It’s not. Again, to be clear, I have never supported white nationalism. And it’s notable that the author of my page has to resort to using a tweet thread about cultural nationalism in which I explicitly rejected ethno-nationalism (if not in the thread, then in responses) because it is immoral and infeasible in the United States, which is already a diverse country. Cultural nationalism was recently defended by Rich Lowry in a book. For those who are interested in my real views, that book is a good place to look.
Last, the page criticizes one of my peer-reviewed articles on human diversity. Good. Arguments should be criticized. That is how science works. But, I fail to see why it’s nefarious to write a peer-reviewed article that has been warmly received by many people about human diversity. Is it entirely correct? I doubt it. But, I am still happy with the article and I think it is correct in broad outlines.
It’s also useful to note that the page includes a link that it claims was written by Steven Pinker. It was not. It’s an elementary mistake, perhaps purposeful. The link is to a blog that has a link to another blog about Pinker. Steven Pinker has never denounced my work, although it is certainly possible that he disagrees with some of my hypotheses.
RationalWiki is not a serious website. And the page about me doesn’t even have the veneer of objectivity. It’s risibly biased and likely close to libelous. For now, the only thing I can do is be clear about what I actually believe. Those who are interested can read my essays and peer-reviewed articles on these topics. I strive to be intellectually honest and transparent. I doubtless have views with which some vehemently disagree. That’s fine. I’m open to evidence and debate. We all should be. I’ve changed my views many times. And I am certain that I will continue to update and refine my hypotheses. But, websites like RationalWiki do not contribute to scientific and political discourse. They subtract from it by smearing people with whom they disagree. That’s a sad but unfortunately effective and long-standing strategy.