Science should not be used to promote white supremacy

A white supremacist who drove and fired 200 miles into a supermarket in Buffalo, NY, killed 10 people, published a manifesto. Most of the people he killed were black. The 180 pages of the manifesto referred not only to racist conspiracy theories but also to scientific research on behavioral genetics. The research focused on the IQ between racial groups and the finding of inherited differences in the tendency to violence.

There’s no reason to believe, based on his screed, that the Buffalo shooter understood or even read the scientific articles. It is likely that, like the racist tropes he reproduced in the document, he was collected from message boards and social media channels, whose users clung to titles that seemed to promise scientific dominance. Scientists studying the genetic basis of complex behavioral traits have focused their attention on the conclusions drawn from population resources, and especially how to communicate their scientific findings to the general public, using genome-wide association studies. But there is compelling evidence that research into the evolution of socio-behavioral characteristics finds a keen audience among white nationalists.

Scientists need to recognize that their research could be a weapon. They need to think hard not only about the misinterpretation or misuse of their findings, but also about the point at which they conduct studies on differences between racial groups. On top of all that, scientists need to take an active role in combating violence and white supremacy.

As an academic philosopher who focuses on how scientific knowledge is constructed and focuses on the ethical dimensions of scientific knowledge construction, I am familiar with the argument that the knowledge that scientists construct is morally neutral: like a hammer, it is a discovery. a tool that can be used to build good things or do serious harm — and the only responsibility of scientists is to look for the truth, whatever it may be. Scientists have more responsibility than that here.

On the one hand, they need to be honest and articulate about the vulnerability of research that seeks to find correlations between race and inequality in characteristics such as race and intelligence or tendency to violence. This includes methodological weaknesses, such as treating IQ as a good proxy for the mind or treating “race” as something with a clear genetic basis. Finding that particular genes or groups of genes are related to a complex behavior does not show a causal relationship or disregard the importance of environmental factors, and in fact, it is often false to believe that genes and the environment change independently. The difference in mean of a trait associated with a set of genes between two populations does not exclude individual variation inside these populations may be larger than the average difference between populations. All of this means that it is difficult to draw strong, clear, and well-supported conclusions from much of this work. To the extent that racial science is just bad science, scientists have a duty to call it, rather than question it.

Another thing is that scientists need to do a study to show why traits such as intelligence or a tendency to violence are so motivated that they are written in our genes or that they would be different for people of different racial groups. Among all the truths they can find about our complex world, why this focus? Could it be that scientists are following their predictions, that human beings are living in a culture built around these biases, or that funders are looking for scientific validation for their biases? Any scientist who rejects this possibility has forgotten that objectivity requires a common project to study the scientific consequences in order to find out how they can be wrong.

There is another question that scientists need to ask themselves when considering why they study scientific questions: what good is the knowledge I am building? How could it be used? Do scientists imagine that the discovery of genetic inequalities between racial groups would be used to channel more school funding to black and brown communities, or to justify school funding to white communities? Or would finding genetic differences in racial violence tend to be used to do anything to double the current excessive coping of color communities?

Sure, most members of the scientific community are not behavioral geneticists, and not all behavioral geneticists support white supremacists in racial science. But all scientists have duties not only as seekers of truth but also as members of the human community.

Showing basic respect for black humanity is something that white scientists have historically struggled with in the treatment of malignant syphilis in the U.S. Public Health Service, or in the treatment of experienced female slaves, or Henrietta Lacks and her subjects. a descendant of a biomedical research community reaped the disproportionate benefits of its “immortal” cells while failing to address racial differences in research and access to health care. In fact, scientists have often stopped defending their peers or intellectual ancestors, such as James Watson or EO Wilson, because their scientific achievements should be supported by white supremacy.

Scientists need to make it clear that science cannot be used to support white supremacy, and that they should put their backs and scientific skills to help break the systemic racism and build a world that supports the flowering of all human beings, regardless of their genetic ancestry.


Leave a Comment