I wrote a couple pieces this week that had a pretty simple intent. They pointed out that a lot of progressive people think that any discussion of “intelligence” – a contested and socially-constructed concept, as I said in both posts – and genetics is necessarily a Charles Murray-type act of pseudoscientific racism. I pointed out something that I know, which is that there is a large and active field within the broad world of psychology that looks for connections between genetics and all measurable psychological traits, including intelligence. These people are perfectly mainstream researchers, many of whom work at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world. And I argued that it was a mistake to simply assume that genetics and intelligence is a subject that carries with it racist intent. That doesn’t mean they’re right, and it certainly doesn’t mean there’s nothing to criticize or be worried about in that research. But it simply is not accurate to say that the study of genetic origins of human traits is only found on the fringes. I encounter that work often as someone who researches educational testing.
I have written against race “science” many times. Oftentimes people ask me why; they say, hey, that stuff’s discredited. I’ve always answered the same way: in a world that’s full of antiblack racism, we can be sure that many people secretly believe that black people are less intelligent. And given that these arguments have bubbled up again and again, in mainstream publications like The New Republic and Slate, I think it’s important to forcefully rebut them. I believe good science is the best way to fight bad science. You are, again, entitled to disagree. But I have never expressed anything but total commitment to opposing racist pseudoscience. Meanwhile, someone like William Saletan wrote a week-long series explicitly endorsing those conclusions ten years ago, and yet seems to attract much less blowback than I do for opposing them.
I thought that writing 5,000 words about what I think genes influence and don’t, how much variation is likely attributable to genetics, and discussing the predictive powers and limitations of IQ would be sufficient to prevent people from deliberately misreading my post as an endorsement of race science. Sadly, that is not the case, and so of course Twitter is accusing me of believing literally the opposite of what the very first lines of the first post said:
This comes in the context of a basic fact of my life for years, which is strangers from the internet contacting people in positions of power over me to hurt my life because they don’t like me or my politics. Actual people have been trying to get me fired from my actual real-life job for as long as I’ve had it. I’m not really worried; I am part of a union and enjoy certain protections as a public sector employee, though nothing like the protections of tenure. But still, it is profoundly unnerving to be someone whose ability to pay the rent, health insurance, and life in general are threatened by an active and ongoing attempt to get me in trouble. This is not something particularly new. In grad school people emailed my professors. During the election people Tweeted at Purdue to fire me from my adjuncting gig. Publications that publish my work, no matter how uncontroversial, take shit for it. This has extended into my new life in New York despite the fact that I have tried like hell to avoid controversy. It’s exhausting to constantly have to worry that someone is lying about what you’ve argued in order to ruin you professionally.
If you’re someone who regularly uses Twitter to misrepresent what someone has said or believes, you’re messing with real people’s real lives. The shameful Matt Bruenig story should make it very clear that while social media has very little ability to cause positive change, it can really divest people of their incomes and their health insurance. The culture of dishonesty in social media – particularly left-leaning social media and especially media-industry Twitter – might seem fun or cute to the people involved. But it has teeth. I get it: media culture treats all of the professional world as a game. I still have to pay my rent.
People told me to log off Twitter; I logged off. People told me to stop blogging about politics; I stopped. I am trying to hold down a little space online where I can cultivate a small readership of people who are interested in subjects related to my expertise, which is the assessment of learning and research methods associated with that. I am not asking for much attention. I would really hate it if I simply have to stop writing online altogether, but if I’m risking the health insurance that allows me to lead a stable and functional life, then I’ll have to. And listen: I fucking hate having to write something like this. I hate having to make myself out like some sort of a victim, when I’m not. But I am asking you, please, if you are going to get mad at me or my work, get mad about things I actually believe and actually have written.