I would like to start off by saying that I am not a scientist. I do not have an expert opinion on race or about differences in IQ across populations. As a former white supremacist I’m simply sharing my first hand experiences with the damaging effects weaponized science can have, as well as my concerns about moving this conversation forward responsibly.
It’s very likely you’ve heard the name Charles Murray. Especially recently. Murray is quite an infamous figure in American politics and has been since the 1990’s. He’s a political scientist who’s work has influenced some conservative government policy in the United States. His extremely controversial book, “The Bell Curve”, tried to establish that IQ is a better predictor of many individual outcomes like income and crime than environment and socio-economic status. And, that our social welfare programs for improving social outcomes for the disadvantaged are a waste of taxpayer money. As you can imagine, this argument provoked a lot of criticism for Murray since the book’s publication in 1994. Many since have accused Murray of “scientific racism”.
I was raised in a very irrational environment as a child, being taught to value dogma over logic. Eventually I got into drugs at a young age and ended up in prison at 18 years old where I became a white supremacist skinhead. It was there I remember reading neo-Nazi literature about “The Bell Curve”. It was the first time I had heard of the book, or Charles Murray. And, as I said before, I am not a scientist. I do not have an expert opinion on “The Bell Curve”. In fact, I’ve never even read the entire book. But, I have read about it in propaganda promoting actual scientific racism while in prison. Propaganda that said Murray proves whites are superior to blacks genetically by providing evidence of the IQ differences across populations.
One day while I was in the hole, out in our razor wired exercise yard, an elder skinhead comrade had told me that “Bell Curve Theory” shows how biologically blacks are superior to whites in being more fit for hard labor and sports than whites are. (Again, I am not an expert on “The Bell Curve” and I’m aware that what I was told and what I read was probably not an honest interpretation of the science Murray actually presented.) Since my upbringing didn’t provide me with the necessary cognitive tools to question this information, I took it as gospel. And many white supremacists still do. This weaponizing of science is the reason that I’m concerned about all of this controversy that has resurfaced around “The Bell Curve” and Charles Murray again after an appearance on atheist Sam Harris’ “Waking Up Podcast” in October of 2017.
Now, Sam Harris is no stranger to controversy himself. So, when he had Murray on his podcast he spent a fair amount of time framing the conversation as being an honest discussion about empirical science that should not be conflated with Murray’s views on social policy. Many people were critical of this framework. Ezra Klein, an American journalist and editor-at-large at VOX was one of these critics. After publishing some very critical pieces about Harris’ podcast with Murray in VOX, and after a long email exchange with Harris that was eventually released publicly, Klein also appeared on Harris’ podcast in the episode titled: “Identity & Honesty”.
Klein’s main contention is that Murray, he says, wants to:
“…quantify the difference between races and say that the evidence shows white europeans have done the most to advance human achievement… and [Murray] often looks at indicators that reflect inequality and uses them to justify inequality.”
Klein also says that Harris is more worried about Murray being misrepresented as a racist than he is about the consequences this science can have by materializing as social policy that is damaging to minorities. As I alluded to before, the science can materialize in other forms damaging to minorities as well. It was weaponized by white supremacist neo-Nazi’s who brainwashed me to believe I was intellectually superior to African Americans and we sited it as validation for our barbaric and hateful ideology. Even if white supremacist neo-Nazi’s are misrepresenting the science, scientists have to take into account that science can still be weaponized by these groups and lead to the dehumanization of minorities. To be fair, I know scientists aren’t in jails and prisons with neo-Nazi’s. So, they may not be as aware of this weaponization of science as I am.
And, Harris makes a point worth noting. Science shouldn’t be put aside because of malicious misrepresentation, or even bad social policy. Science comes to a conclusion whether we like it or not. But, we could also avoid a lot of this weaponization of science by placing it in a historical, political and social framework. So, I hope in writing this that scientists can understand just how serious not framing the science in this way is. Although, no matter what, the science is going to come out. We cannot avoid or suppress it, and we have to be honest about it to preserve it’s integrity.
So, I may not be a scientist, but based on my experiences, I believe that scientists should take care to approach these controversial subjects honestly but also with the utmost of tenderness. It’s not like presenting astrophysics. There are people who are effected by these subjects, and not framing the science in a way that will allow the Richard Spencers of the world to twist it, is failing to empathize with the people this weaponized science may ultimately effect.