Re: Suppression of Sociobiology

F. Bryant Furlow (
Wed, 18 Dec 1996 02:08:17 +0000

Omar Shafey said:

> Sociobiology is a politically convenient way for anthropologists and > others to explain cultural features
> as having a genetic, evolutionary or biological basis precluding or
> ignoring a critical assessment of the actual social, political, and
> economic forces at work.

Sociobiological theories do not preclude or ignore the relevance of
social or other environmental parameters in explaining behaviors.
On the contrary, they seek to explain why brains react to these
parameters in such predictable ways.

Behavior is necessarily the interaction of an evolved collection of
information processing mechanisms and environmental cues. Ignoring
relevant social or economic conditions would be as silly as ignoring the
importance of cognitive design in understanding reactions to them.

*Human* sociobiolgy is tricky. We're in an evolutionarily novel
situation (at least Westerners and industrial society inhabitants);
these are not the conditions our brain mechanisms evolved to interact
with. Hence, a good deal of maladaptive and screwy behavior can be
expected. Much such behavior cannot be satisfactorily explained in
evolutionary terms. (For instance, see below.)

> I assail the _The Bell Curve_ because its wholly
> fallacious pseudo-scientific sociobiological explanations for social
> inequality (genes=race=IQ) are popular and dangerous for obvious
> reasons.

Agreed. You and I have both assailed the thinking behind the Bell
Curve. You by drawing attention to its social implications (and then
you over-did the job by unfairly characterizing the book's two
non-sociobiologist authors as representative of the field of

I (and three other researchers) decided to test an alternative
hypothesis of the heritability of intelligence. (Calling names being
less interesting to us than figuring out how to actually best
approximate the biological reality of the ontogeny of "intelligence.")

We indirectly and preliminarily tested one prediction derived from one
of the hypotheses that posits that social inequity, not different
evolutionary trajectories between races, explains different group
averages for IQ scores.

We did this by comparing individuals' IQ scores to physical measures of
their developmental integrity. If developmental stress (caused by lead
pollution, poor prenatal health care, drinking mothers, or whatever)
explains group differences in IQ scores, than IQ and developmental
integrity should co-vary. The first step was to see if this prediction
accurately describes reality.

It does, we found.

In fact, markers of developmental integrity were, in our group, more
significanly related to IQ scores than race. That should be an
interesting result to somebody like yourself, concerned with the social
ramifications of The Bell Curve. Our manuscript is undergoing some
minor revisions and will shortly be resubmitted to a respected
scientific journal. (Pesky sociobiologists are showing up in respected
scientific journals more and more often.)

Sociobiological presumptions about a single human nature led us to
suspect something was theoretically flawed about the Bell Curve
presentation of group differences in IQ, by the way. Had we found that
we were mistaken, and that developmental stress contributes nothing to
our understanding of differences in IQ, we might begin to suspect that
this presumption of a single human nature deserved re-examination.

Characterizing sociobiology as if it were really some covert (or overt!)
attempt to reintroduce Social Darwinist ideas to the world
is unfair, to say the least. Saying (or implying) that Trivers,
Hamilton, Williams, and the rest of the founders of the field are closet
racists is demonstrably false; if anything, they're typically (for
academics) left of center, politically. As have most evolutionary
theorists been, for their time. (Darwin was an abolitionist; Haldane, a
communist; Trivers, an avowed black panthers sympathizer.)