Friday, September 16, 2005

PC censorship

I used to be an admirer of Berkeley economics professor Brad DeLong. I've been a regular reader of his blog for several years. Indeed, he, more than any other individual, inspired me to start blogging. This recent post on the US dollar conundrum shows him at his analytical and expository best.

I was shocked to discover that Professor DeLong actively and surreptitiously censors comments on his blog. You can read about it here. I can't explain his actions without assuming his goal is obfuscation, rather than truth seeking.

I've copied three of my comments below, originally posted to this discussion of human evolution. The third was removed without explanation.

Posted by: steve | Sep 12, 2005 7:55:47 PM

As mentioned, Brad's calculation neglects the possibility that mutations which might be adaptive in one environment are not necessarily adaptive in another.

According to the recent Lahn research (linked to by Anne, above), certain alleles of genes with direct effects on brain function have been subject to strong selection over the last tens of thousands of years. In certain populations (e.g., in Eurasia), the new alleles have rapidly replaced their predecessors, so they were clearly adaptive in those environments. In other populations (sub-Saharan Africa), the new alleles are rare, so they were probably less adaptive.

I don't know what will happen in the future, but current research shows that geographically isolated populations can have very different distributions of certain alleles, and not just those related to superficial features like skin or hair color.

Most fascinating is the possibility that relatively recent mutations had something to do with the rapid advancement of human civilization over the last 5000 years. (The ASPM variant may have emerged about that long ago.)

Posted by: steve | Sep 13, 2005 10:07:14 AM


As already noted, it will take hundreds of years (at minimum) for mixing to eliminate the correlations between genes and "race" (or ancestral geographic lineage) that we currently have. That is a very long time from the perspective of social policy, although not in evolutionary terms.

I am by no means a fan of Sullivan, but I think he is correct to say that most liberals (I am one myself) have, due to wishful thinking, gratefully accepted the "there is no scientific basis for race" line. Anne's post of the NYTimes op-ed by LeRoi gives the history of this facile, but now doomed, position. (Cochran's explanation above is very clear - better than LeRoi's.) I don't think most people appreciate that we are now on a Moore's Law growth curve for genomic information. Google "hapmap" and have a look for yourself at the state of the art.

Rather than rely on the scientifically unsupported claim that "we are all equal," it would be better to teach our students that we all have inalienable human rights regardless of our abilities or genetic make up. Continuing to rely on the false equality premise only undermines the liberal position on race issues.

Posted by: steve | Sep 13, 2005 11:17:21 PM

gcochran wrote:

"Do principal component analysis on the covariance matrix for many loci (or cluster analysis) and !presto! - Bob's your uncle."

This gets right to the point (see an earlier post by gcochran for a less terse explanation). Too bad that very few readers here will understand (or even try to understand) what it means. Bambi vs Godzilla had the insight to ask the question properly. Will he or she make the effort to understand the answer?

Imagine each individual's genetic code as a point in a space of *very high* dimension. Then look at clusters of points. (Define a cluster as a group of points whose distance from each other is less than some radius; distinct clusters are separated by distances larger than this radius.) These clusters map directly onto traditional groupings of ethnicity. In fact, a recent study by Neil Risch at UCSF showed that self-reported "race" correlates very well with the clustering results. (Mixed race people are obviously an exception, but as discussed they are a small fraction of the total population, and will continue to be for some time.)

People (especially professors of social science) who confidently state to their students that "there is no genetic basis for race" should think through the analysis described above and look at the data carefully if they want to retain their credentials as scientists.

From the conclusions of the Risch paper (Am. J. Hum. Genet. 76:268–275, 2005):

Attention has recently focused on genetic structure in the human population. Some have argued that the amount of genetic variation within populations dwarfs the variation between populations, suggesting that discrete genetic categories are not useful (Lewontin 1972; Cooper et al. 2003; Haga and Venter 2003). On the other hand, several studies have shown that individuals tend to cluster genetically with others of the same ancestral geographic origins (Mountain and Cavalli-Sforza 1997; Stephens et al. 2001; Bamshad et al. 2003). Prior studies have generally been performed on a relatively small number of individuals and/or markers. A recent study (Rosenberg et al. 2002) examined 377 autosomal micro-satellite markers in 1,056 individuals from a global sample of 52 populations and found significant evidence of genetic clustering, largely along geographic (continental) lines. Consistent with prior studies, the major genetic clusters consisted of Europeans/West Asians (whites), sub-Saharan Africans, East Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Native Americans. ethnic groups living in the United States, with a discrepancy rate of only 0.14%.


Razib Khan said...


i think it was clear that delong was caught with his pants down and he did what was natural :) if he thought "his side" was winning that argument he wouldn't have done what he did (you and greg were civil and informative, so it can't be that you were being disruptive).

Anonymous said...

Yuck. Which is sad because, like you said, he has some of the best expository economic writing on the web.

Calculated Risk said...

Professor, Dr. DeLong's posts receive many many comments. I commend him for having an open (mostly) site.

I know that DeLong doesn't have a chance to read all of the comments (or even a large percentage). Occasionally there are some very offensive comments, and Dr. DeLong tries to remove them ... and I've seen him accidentally remove good comments too.

Any discussion of genetics will unfortunately always bring out the racists and the bigots. My guess is DeLong deleted some of the more offensive posts and accidentally deleted yours.

I wouldn't take it personlly - or stop reading DeLong's site.

Best Regards.

Steve Hsu said...


I'd like to give DeLong the benefit of the doubt, but the pattern of deletions is pretty clear. He was deliberating influencing the line of discussion towards a conclusion he prefers. (It wasn't a matter of overt racism or offensive language - I've seen much nastier exchanges on his blog.) This shows a lack of scholarly integrity. Who knows how many other threads have been manipulated in this way?

If someone posts some data contradicting DeLong's views on the equity risk premium, does he simply delete it?

His behavior is all the worse considering how he has taken the Savage Minds (blog) anthropologists to task over their treatment of Diamond.

Carson C. Chow said...

Independent of whether the basis for race exists or not, it is still not clear how the two genes that Lahn found are related to intelligence. We only know that those genes are important for brain growth. Who knows, it could be that what was important 30,000 years ago was that you stayed warm and the selection pressure was for a smaller brain that dissipated less heat and used less energy.

Calculated Risk said...

Professor, I don't know the specifics, but if he is selectively deleting comments to steer the discussion in a particular direction - then I agree with you about scholarly integrity.

I usually just read his economics posts (there are too many great sites / discussions to read everything), and I haven't seen anything like the behavior you are describing.

Best Regards!

Steve Hsu said...

I don't get many comments here at all (and most from individuals of impeccable pedigree :-), so very few problems so far!

Carson, rumor has it that Lahn has a third paper under review which will address your concerns. Just imagine how you yourself would conduct a study to see whether the presence of a particular allele (present, conveniently, at 50/50 level in current European populations) positivitly affects intelligence.

Now, keep in mind that as we get closer to the heart of the matter non-scientific PC outrage will make life harder and harder for Lahn, U Chicago Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator or not. We may wait a long time to see the third study published. (Shades of DeLong's reaction?)

Carson C. Chow said...

I figured that study would be coming next but it's just going to open up a whole new can of worms. What will he use as a measure of intelligence? For his sake, I hope it's not the infamous "g". I'm just glad it's not me doing the study.

Steve Hsu said...


What if it is g? These are studies in an outwardly homogeneous population (e.g., Europeans). No one knows who is carrying the allele, so there is no reason to suspect discrimination to affect the results of this study.

Think a bit about how you would test the hypothesis that the presence of the new allele affects cognitive function. Whether or not you find "g" to be a satisfactory psychometric, you would have to respond to a finding that variations in g are correlated with the presence of an (otherwise invisible) mutation in a superficially homogeneous population.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for the lucid 'hyperspace' explanation of gene clustering as it relates to questions of race. It's an area where the power of array-based tools really shines, compared to the 'ol one-gene, one-Southern stuff we used to do so many (10) years ago.

gcochran said...

My theory is that I inadvertently referred to a painful family situation by saying "Bob's your uncle!".

Anonymous said...

Was the whole thing a cunning plot to win support for the opposition?

1) Create self-important math-based argument that begs to be demolished.

2) Let people demolish it.

3) Delete demolition and close comments, ensuring maximal publicity and maximal kudos for one's opponents.

(It's also quite possible that many people who have to support PC for professional/social reasons are subconsciously against it and sometimes behave accordingly.)

Anonymous said...

i am also surprised that your comments were deleted. i wonder if delong does the editing himself, or has subcontracted it to an RA.

Look at the very last remaining comment in the thread. Bracketed replies were inserted to a set of questions I was asking someone else!

With behavior like that, it's implausible that it isn't Brad himself doing the deleting.

Steve Sailer said...

DeLong also deleted a number of comments I added providing statistical information on race differences in track and field performance. You can still see DeLong's fans arguing with my deleted posts, which makes the comment thread resemble those old Bolshevik Revolution pictures that Stalin had Trotsky airbrushed out from Lenin's side.

You can see some of what DeLong censored here:

Anonymous said...

Brad doesn't delete comments often, but he does occasionally.

The usual bias is that if a comment is deleted, it's most likely a right-wing comment (or interpreted to be so).

I was once a commenter in a thread where he deleted someone's comments defending a slur he made against Chomsky.

'Course, I'm against deleting comments unless it's clear the commenter is making a vicious personal attack on other commenters.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, replace defending a slur by disproving a slur...

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