Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Abusing Heritability: “Libertarian Realist” Edition

Libertarian Realist Twitter

With his 250+ videos spread over several accounts, the Youtube user Libertarian Realist is a prolific video creator. Most of his videos center around his obsession with ethnic origin, crime and intelligence. He is an intense advocate of the pseudoscience of race realism and the scientifically flawed thesis that African-Americans are somehow genetically inferior when it comes to intelligence compared with European-Americans.

He also promotes a number of crank ideas from conspiracy theories about water fluoridation quackery, Jews-run-the-globalist-media, anal sex as a potential threat to the future of civilization and anti-immigration falsehoods like Eurabia as well as classic misunderstandings of evolution and ravings about alleged cultural Marxists. Despite these severe and recurrent lapses from rationality, he ironically claims to “follow truth wherever it may lead”.

Recently, I and a couple of other scientific skeptics active on Twitter got a tweet from Libertarian Realist.

Libertarian realist first tweet

It seems to be a way for to advertise a recent video that he uploaded earlier that month called “Race and IQ Denial Explain”. Unsurprisingly, he repeats the same stale falsehoods that have been spouted by race realists and destroyed by scientists and skeptics for many decades. Some of these erroneous claims have been discussed on this website before and others will undoubtedly be discussed in the future. This post, however, will focus on his misunderstandings of heritability and our recent Twitter exchange.

As was discussed in a previous article on this website entitled The Widespread Abuse of Heritability, heritability is “the amount of phenotypic variance (“variation”) in a particular population in a given environment that can be attributed to the genetic variance (“variation”) in that specific population in that given environment, but not a measure of the relative influence of genes on the phenotype of an individual compared to environment and is not informative about between-group differences”.

Yet race realists, out of wishful thinking or willful ignorance, frequently misunderstand heritability. They may occasionally quote the variance ratio definition, but then slip into the bad practice of thinking that heritability tells us anything about the relative influence of genes on an individual’s phenotype or the causes of between-group differences.

In the video he linked, Libertarian Realist makes these errors repeatedly. A representative example occurs at 17:20, where Libertarian Realist claims the following (my transcript):

And then, Evogen accepted the mainstream scientific viewpoint on general IQ heritability. He accepted that IQ was about 75% heritable. Of course, he did not really understand what the term heritability meant [Libertarian Realist laughs - Emil's note]. If you are going to deny that genetic variation plays any role in shaping any extent of any of the group IQ differences within a country, whether they be between blacks and whites, or between east Asians and Hispanics, then acknowledging that IQ variation overall within that country is 75% conditioned by genetic variation within that country pretty much undoes your position. It renders it untenable.

This section shows Libertarian Realist making at least three of the classic race realist fallacies with respect to heritability: (1) stating that general IQ is 75% heritable (instead of stating that the heritability of general IQ is 0.75) insinuates that heritability is informative about the relative merits of inheritance over environment for individual phenotypes, (2) stating a single figure instead of a range of values shows that he does not understand that heritability depends on environment and population and (3) failing to understand that heritability estimates are not informative about the causes of between-group differences. It is also very ironic that Libertarian Realist asserts that his opponent does not understand heritability, when it is himself who so thoroughly misunderstands the concept.

I replied to the tweet sent by Libertarian Realist:

Libertarian Realist 2

The link in the above tweet goes the previously discussed article on this website about the widespread abuse of heritability. Does Libertarian Realist respond by providing arguments in defense of his misunderstandings of heritability? No, he tries to evade the issue by attacking the fact that C0nc0rdance (whose videos about the intellectual bankruptcy of race realists I discussed here) read from an essay written by Stephen J. Gould on cancer survival and expressed admiration for him:

Libertarian realist 3

It was at this point that I understood that this discussion was going to go precisely nowhere in terms of intellectual productivity, so I replied with:

Libertarian Realist 4

(Rushton and Jensen being the most cited race realist workers)

I also called him out on not answering my objections to his abuse of heritability:

Libertarian Realist 5

He then, in a twist of enormous irony, claim to have dealt with heritability in his video (as we saw above, he almost completely failed to understand this concept and what it implies):

Libertarian Realist 6

I repeat my request for Libertarian Realist to address my arguments and he continued to evade that request with another distraction:

Libertarian Realist 7

Libertarian Realist 8

This is the last tweet that Libertarian Realist has sent me so far. He has refused to reply to any of my next two tweets, despite being active on Twitter and posting new tweets.

Libertarian Realist 9

Libertarian Realist 10

One can hope that Libertarian Realist understood that he abused the heritability concept because of his ideological beliefs and that he has now changed his position. My experience with race realists suggests that he will not. Instead, he might have rationalized this exchange by labeling me as an “anti-white cultural Marxist brainwashed into political correctness”, or some such nonsense. I do not really care, because our exchange is out there for everyone to see and everyone can see that Libertarian realist either did not bother to read my post (he could have just scrolled down to the definition I wrote) or he read it and could not be bothered to respond.

I end this post with a few challenges to Libertarian Realist and others who share his ideological inclination:

  • Why do race realists appeal to a singular heritability estimate for general IQ when heritability depends on environment and population? It is not that there are varying estimates of the same population parameter, but rather that there are several, different population parameters to be estimated, each specific for a population and an environment.
  • Why do race realists keep equivocating “heritability” with “heritable”? Heritability says nothing about the relative impact of genes for the phenotype of individuals (i.e. high heritability estimates does not mean that genes have a large effect on phenotype). It is a ratio of variances on the population level.
  • Why do race realists keep using heritability estimates as if they were informative about the causes of between-group differences? They aren’t.

These are just related to the issue of heritability abuse (Visscher et. al, 2008). There are also other, more general questions that race realists and other similar groups need to answer:

  • Why do race realists insist that traditional race categories are based on evidence when the examination of over 350 microsatellites and 650 000 single-nucleotide polymorphisms respectively (thereby avoiding the cries of “Lewontin Fallacy!1″) show that >90% of genetic variation is accounted for by within-group differences (Rosenberg et. al, 2002; Serre and Pääbo, 2004; Li et. al, 2008)?
  • Why do race realists insist that traditional race categories are based on evidence when the apparently clustering in PCA graphs is an artifact of low sampling density? When sampling density is more homogeneous, human genetic diversity better fits with a cline than races (Serre and Pääbo, 2004).
  • Why do race realists conception of genetic differences between populations (e. g. IQ and athletic ability) not match the observed genetic differences between population, which relates to things like skin pigmentation, immune system specialization and so on (Barreiro et al, 2008)? They cannot appeal to “many genes, small effect per gene” as modern genome-wide association studies have sufficient statistical power to detect SNPs that have a very small contribution.

Although I doubt that any race realist can even begin to answer these questions in a coherent manner, it is important to emphasize just how out of touch with scientific reality these individuals really are. Race realists are the science deniers, not scientific skeptics who question their claims.

References:

Barreiro, L. B., Laval, G., Quach, H., Patin, E., & Quintana-Murci, L. (2008). Natural selection has driven population differentiation in modern humans. Nat Genet, 40(3), 340-345.

Li, J. Z., Absher, D. M., Tang, H., Southwick, A. M., Casto, A. M., Ramachandran, S., . . . Myers, R. M. (2008). Worldwide Human Relationships Inferred from Genome-Wide Patterns of Variation. Science, 319(5866), 1100-1104.

Rosenberg, N. A., Pritchard, J. K., Weber, J. L., Cann, H. M., Kidd, K. K., Zhivotovsky, L. A., & Feldman, M. W. (2002). Genetic Structure of Human Populations. Science, 298(5602), 2381-2385.

Serre, D., & Pääbo, S. (2004). Evidence for Gradients of Human Genetic Diversity Within and Among Continents. Genome Research, 14(9), 1679-1685.

Visscher, P. M., Hill, W. G., & Wray, N. R. (2008). Heritability in the genomics era — concepts and misconceptions. Nat Rev Genet, 9(4), 255-266.

8 responses to “Abusing Heritability: “Libertarian Realist” Edition

  1. Skeptek December 27, 2013 at 15:02

    The questions you finish with may well be rhetorical, but there is an answer that fits them all. It’s because race “realists” have only one goal – to justify their irrational hate, in a desperate attempt to shed the most primitive mantle of fear-based hate.

    Blatant racism badly disguised as science for ulterior motives, is perhaps the most disgusting and hateful of such perversions. Sickening, really. I envy how you remain so dispassionate. I’m sure you share the outrage of any sane human, but you hide it well.

  2. Arelen December 28, 2013 at 10:33

    You are doing an injustice to science by calling these people by their adopted name, “racialist” would suffice.

    • Emil Karlsson December 28, 2013 at 20:02

      The term “race realist” is indeed highly problematic. One alternative that I have used in the past is “race troll”. I tend to use “race realist” when arguing against people who are especially prone to playing the martyr card, and “race troll” when dealing with more confrontational situations.

      But you are right, scientific skeptics needs to use a better word than “race realist” that is not as hostility-laden as “race troll”. Racialist may be such a label.

  3. Pingback: Twitter Arguments Round-Up | Debunking Denialism

  4. Anonymous January 21, 2014 at 08:55

    LibertarianRealist made a video to you about this topic. You might want a look.

  5. Alexis Delanoir February 1, 2014 at 16:04

    I haven’t gotten the opportunity to watch his video response to you, but what I noticed:

    He was talking about heritability, you challenged him on it, and so he demands your estimate of “what percent of racial variance explains IQ” — completely irrelevant.

    This is why I don’t directly debate them often. Everything is misconstrued beyond the point of being meaningful. I’ll watch his video soon though.

  6. Pingback: Abusing Heritability: “Libertarian Realist” Edition (Part II) | Debunking Denialism

  7. Emil Karlsson February 8, 2014 at 18:10

    I have written a response to Libertarian Realist here.

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