The Invention of Rosalind Franklin

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These days it is hard to avoid seeing references to Rosalind Franklin whenever DNA is mentioned. In earlier and saner times she might have been mentioned in passing, as someone who made some worthwhile technical contributions. We all know that James Watson and Francis Crick first figured out the structure of DNA in 1953. Franklin was a helper along the […]

Behavior Genetics , History , IQ

Erasmus Darwin without Francis Galton

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Erasmus Darwin is an interesting character. R.A. Fisher thought highly of him. But claiming that he invented a rocket engine on the basis of a vague, un-captioned doodle in his commonplace book is unwise. Desmond King-Hele has made a lot of far-fetched claims of that kind. They will backfire, like rockets do. Or injure the occupant, as that unstable bathchair […]


The Lawn Road Flats

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The architecture is instantly recognizable. Exterior balconies connecting doors to apartments (known as flats in that insignificant part of the universe called the Rest of the English Speaking World). Unadorned brutal concrete. Inside, dehumanized furniture of the metal stool kind, and a cafeteria called the Isobar, serving cheap food for aspiring proletarians longing to eat communally. Hardly an isotonic. Cities […]

Behavior Genetics , Eugenics , IQ

Eugenic Taint

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There is no more tired or trite argument than that some or other topic is tainted by association with eugenics. For instance, research into intelligence or behavior genetics in general. These aim to describe the world as it is rather than as it ought to be. Eugenics is a policy which attempts to alter the world, to fashion how it […]


Freeman Dyson, Useful Idiot

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Freeman Dyson made his reputation as a first-rank theoretical physicist. He also had a sideline in popular essays and mildly controversial opinions in other fields. The following anecdote is taken from a collection of these for The New York Review of Books, The Scientist as Rebel (2006). (It is curious that scientists are always rebels in their own minds, no […]

History , Statistics

Colonial Atrocity Porn

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Thanks to Adam Hochschild, King Leopold of Belgium (1835–1909) is now known as one of history’s greatest mass murderers. At 10 million, he keeps company with Joseph Stalin (perhaps 30 million), Mao (perhaps 60 million) and that little house painter with the silly mustache (usually credited with 6 million). Carrying out a genocidal plundering of the Congo [Leopold] looted its […]

Ethology , Sociobiology

Bill Charlesworth on Washburn

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Since he has a name virtually unpronounceable in the Anglosphere, the great ethologist Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt (1928-2018) is not nearly as well-known as he ought to be outside of specialist circles. German is also a language that is really hard to render idiomatically in English, so his many books take some getting into. That is a pity. They are first-rate, in […]

Documentaries , Psychopathy , True Crime

Errol Morris Gets Lost in the Wilderness

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Errol Morris is a well-known documentary film-maker. His Thin Blue Line (1988) helped to free a man on death row for the murder of a cop in Texas. Many of his other works, all in interview form, were first-rate—especially Vernon Florida (1981, crazy southerners) and Tabloid (2010, Miss Wyoming 1973 and the Case of the Manacled Mormon). His short-lived TV […]

Behavior Genetics , IQ , Statistics

Experts Weigh In

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Experts are not always helpful, especially when they are experts on other topics. Richard Hamming, inventor of Hamming Codes, has ideas about intelligence: We will now take up an example where a definition still bothers us, namely IQ. It is as circular as you could wish. A test is made up which is supposed to measure “intelligence”, it is revised […]