Repeat Offender: Satoshi Kanazawa’s Other Greatest Misses

By Arturo R. García

Satoshi Kanazawa’s Monday blog post about black women and beauty standards, since taken down, was only the latest in a string of questionable contributions to both Psychology Today and his field.

In 2006, Kanazawa was accused of reviving eugenics-era theories after publishing a paper in England blaming low IQ levels for low life expectancy and high infant mortality rates in the continent of Africa – seemingly ignoring decades worth of political and social unrest. This led to him being called “the great idiot of social science” by renowned biologist PZ Myers in an article last year on Alternet.

Daniela Perdomo’s piece for Alternet focused on another study by Kanazawa, this one alleging that atheists are “more likely to acquire and espouse evolutionarily novel values and preferences (such as liberalism and atheism…) than less intelligent individuals.” Perdomo writes:

… Not only does Kanazawa wax over structural inequalities that may lead to varying IQ levels in American society, even the disparities he finds in this imperfect measure of intelligence are relatively miniscule. For the most part, he is not speaking of a difference of more than six IQ points between liberals and conservatives, atheists and believers — a negligible difference one would never notice in real person-to-person interactions.

Kanazawa isn’t the first to study the intelligence-religiosity nexus. Other studies have also found a three- to six-point IQ difference between atheists and religious believers, in the atheists’ favor. But those studies didn’t claim that atheists were more evolved, as Kanazawa presumes, and merely conclude that they are more skeptical due to a certain kind of schooling and cultural exposure (which might also account for why some people perform well on IQ tests), leaving room to account for why so many people — say, like William F. Buckley, Jr., the late conservative public intellectual — can be so religious and conservative and yet quite intelligent.

In February 2008, Kanazawa defined his position as “extremely purist” in a post in Psychology Today, saying findings can only be either true or false:

No other criteria besides the truth should matter or be applied in evaluating scientific theories or conclusions. They cannot be “racist” or “sexist” or “reactionary” or “offensive” or any other adjective. Even if they are labeled as such, it doesn’t matter. Calling scientific theories “offensive” is like calling them “obese”; it just doesn’t make sense. Many of my own scientific theories and conclusions are deeply offensive to me, but I suspect they are at least partially true.

Once scientists begin to worry about anything other than the truth and ask themselves “Might this conclusion or finding be potentially offensive to someone?”, then self-censorship sets in, and they become tempted to shade the truth. What if a scientific conclusion is both offensive and true? What is a scientist to do then? I believe that many scientific truths are highly offensive to most of us, but I also believe that scientists must pursue them at any cost.

It is not my job as a scientist to “use” scientific knowledge in any way to improve the human condition; that’s the job of politicians, policy makers, physicians, and other social engineers. Their goal of helping people and improving their lives is a noble and important (albeit nonscientific) one. Any successful intervention, however, must be based on the true understanding of nature. If these social engineers don’t know the true causes of what they are trying to create or eliminate, how can they possibly hope to succeed? By opposing and entirely disregarding certain scientific theories and conclusions a priori on ideological and political grounds, because they believe they could not and should not be true, they risk the chance they might not achieve their goal of helping people.

Less than a month later, however, he engaged in a rather unscientific – and genocidal – bit of speculation as to how the United States could have ended the “war on terror” more quickly, emphasis his:

Here’s a little thought experiment. Imagine that, on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the President of the United States was not George W. Bush, but Ann Coulter. What would have happened then? On September 12, President Coulter would have ordered the US military forces to drop 35 nuclear bombs throughout the Middle East, killing all of our actual and potential enemy combatants, and their wives and children. On September 13, the war would have been over and won, without a single American life lost.

That post is still active on PT’s website, while Monday’s has been pulled – justifiably, according to fellow PT blogger Mikhail Lyubansky. But it wasn’t because Kanazawa’s work arrived at an unpopular confusion, emphasis his:

The point is that there are also group differences, not in attractiveness (as Kanazawa claims), but in cultural messages about what is and is not attractive. Standards of beauty, like most other beliefs, are socialized and change not only from place to place but also over time. In both the United States and England, (where Kanazawa lives and works), standards of beauty are essentially “White” standards, because whites comprise the majority of the population and have disproportional control over both media and fashion. And while it is not just White respondents who are socialized this way (internalized racism has been well documented), it is certainly the case that White Americans and Europeans (who are less likely to have received more positive messages about Black beauty) would show the strongest anti-Black bias.

As long as this is understood and framed accordingly, there is no problem with the data Kanazawa reports. What they show is that because Black faces and bodies don’t fit mainstream White standards of physical attractiveness, both respondents and interviewers show an anti-Black bias. Unfortunately, Kanazawa fails to consider either sample bias or socializing effects. Even if he believes, as he apparently does, that human behavior is entirely “evolutionary”, good science requires a careful analysis of sample bias and an explicit discussion regarding the study’s generalizability. Without this kind of methodological analysis, Kanazawa’s entire premise — that there is such a thing as a single objective standard of attractiveness — is fatally (and tragically) flawed.

It is worth noting that Kanazawa repeats this same flaw of omission when he explains that the attractiveness results are not due to race group differences in intelligence, as though there are no scholarly critiques of IQ measures in general and their racial bias in particular.

These are not trivial omisisions. They are the necessary context that gives readers the information they need to draw their own conclusions.

  • Anonymous

    I keep running into this guy’s stuff all the time, usually by complete accident. I’ve never been able to finish one of his articles; he’s just so full of it (one day I will look at the author’s name BEFORE I start reading). For a short while I wondered “why does he still have a job?” but then remembered that he likes to say stuff that white dudez like to hear so..

  • Shruti

    Ugh.Psychology Today in general is just awful. Assholes..

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    When I read one of his “findings” was that men “naturally” prefer blondes because blonde hair signifies youth, I knew he was full of nonsense. I mean I never even heard that belief that blonde hair and youth go together; if it is out there it’s a cultural belief because how can one expect populations where blonde hair is not predominant to support that notion?

    • Anonymous

      I recommend watching this documentary called America the Beautiful (if you haven’t seen it already–it’s on hulu.com), if, for nothing else, to see this cosmetic surgeon who holds views similar to Kanazawa. This particular person (a white man) believed that evolution favored lighter skin and other features because–I shit you not–it allowed people seeking a mate to see if the potential partner is diseased. 

      Again, I shit you not.

      When a dark-skinned Black woman went him for assistance, he would always put on make-up 5 shades lighter than her natural complexion.  When the woman complained, he started spouting off his theories and that she was self-loathing.  (The two had a very heated argument as she was going out the door.) Now, the man’s theories were dismissed, but in a very ableist way: the director/narrator simply stated that the doctor “was bipolar.” The narrator went on from there.  

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  • http://profiles.google.com/robinmargolis Robin Margolis

    Thanks for providing the context of these further Kanazawa quotes. I particularly appreciate his “extremely purist” quote (now that descriptor doesn’t remind me of any historical fascist movements out there at all). 

    I caught some flack posting elsewhere about my hesitance to entirely bracket this kind of junk science as merely “pseudoscience” precisely because of his sentiment that he can only be bothered by the criteria of “truth.” While Kanazawa clearly makes a mockery of proper scientific methodology, the arrogance that allows him to make these kind of statements with confidence, the authority that gives him a platform for spouting his bigotry, is not unique to him.  Many respectable, professional scientists would similarly contend they can’t be bothered with whether there conclusion are offensive (as one of the graphics on Latoya Peterson’s post read: Science isn’t PC).

    I agree that scientific findings shouldn’t merely follow what is already commonly believed to be true, nor follow only what society might want to be true, implicit to this statement is a deniable to being held accountable to the political/ethical impact of scientific work. No form of human knowledge is removed from culturally based assumption, or the sociopolitical context form which it emerges. We need scientific institutions and the scientists within them to embed within their process open, critical discussions of how cultural assumptions play out within their work AND what societal/human/ethical impact the work will result in. I know there are measures currently in place, but I also don’t believe they are engaged at the deep level required to rise to where the scientific method itself would require.

  • Anonymous

    I definitely agree that PT is more of a popular mag than anything.  Unfortunately there are too many mental health practitioners who consume its contents with a degree of seriousness as opposed to just leaving it as waiting room fodder for their clients, which is where the problem lies. 

    p.s. Lyubansky’s article is back up for anyone that is interested.

  • Doba0821

     the PT blog post you reference by Mikhail Lyubansky is no longer on Psychology Today. It says the site is under maintenance. What kind of BS…

  • Anonymous

    Yesterday when I read the PT article, I had about 2.5 seconds of rage because haven’t we heard this message  ad nauseum from every source imaginable. Unfortunately as a black woman I’ve reached a point where I don’t even care anymore.  I fight the good fight when necessary and promote the messages about beauty standards that will help to uplift women and girls in my immediate community.

    However, as a social scientist, I am more angry that Kanazawa was not only using shoddy methodology, but that he has continually been given a platform by PT to promote ideas that have been “refudiated” (haha sorry I couldn’t resist) by both the bio and social science communities, including colleagues the London School of Economics where he is on the faculty. 

    Lori Adelman at The Grio made a good point about how this race-baiting ultimately benefits Psychology Today, but that they also deserve the blame as well.  All the frenzy crashed their servers and all the clicks, link backs, etc. translate into profit for a publication that most people outside of the field have never even glanced at.

  • Guest

     Wow… clearly the doorman at LSE was asleep at the admission desk and/or his dissertation committee was both drunk and high.  This goes deeper than this punk-ass magazine.  SEVERAL somebody’s fu*ked up for this guy to get as far as he has. 

    • Tiffany

      Yes. Yes. Yes. I’ve met Satoshi personally. He was my personal advisor for a REAL brief minute while studying abroad at LSE and I can tell you he’s a very evil person. It’s not just his scientific logic that’s off, his social logic is off as well. I can tell you a story if you want. Here it goes.
      It was the beginning of my junior year. I had just flown into London. I had missed orientation for General Course students, but not classes and I hadn’t met my advisor yet. We as study abroad students were told to meet with our personal advisor as soon as possible. So I found out who my personal advisor was: Satoshi Kanazawa. I emailed him telling him I had just landed and asked when would be a good time to set up an appointment. Nothing. No response. Time passes and I try to get acclimated to LSE’s system, but I still hadn’t met my advisor. As the first trimester nears November I had to switch out a class that wasn’t working out for me and I try to contact Mr. Kanazawa again through email.  This is at least the third time and again no response. Time is wasting and I finally decide to drop by his office. I tried to be considerate by asking for his office hours by email and I finally found out in person.

      Mr. Kanazawa was seated having a chat with a faculty member. They see me waiting and quickly end their discussion. I enter his office and extend my hand to shake his. He stays seated, glares at me and leaves my hand hanging. I take a seat anyway and cheerfully and quickly tell him why I’m there and my problem when he says “You said in your email that I didn’t respond to you. Did you think there was a reason for that???”

      I immediately think “Oh! Something must have happened in his family. Something personal.” I say this while stuttering trying to show I understand if something came up. But no. That wasn’t it. There’s a long pause. He glares at me for what seems to be hours. Finally he says “I don’t answer… obnoxious… emails. YOU missed orientation…”  He then goes on implying that I’m a bad student and ASSUMED that I wanted him to repeat what he said at orientation at the beginning of the year! I’m so caught off guard and shocked at his reaction that I say nothing as he harshly says that he’s going to have me transferred to another advisor making it sound like I’m a bad student and am unworthy to be his advisee. He then throws me out of his office by saying “GOOD BYE!” as he spins around in his chair. I leave quaking in my boots almost about to cry. You would’ve had to have been there to hear his tone of voice. There is a demon in that man. I was completely new to LSE. I knew nothing of their standard procedure. I was totally frightened and confused at what just happened. As I walked home I doubt whether I belong at LSE. Depression seizes me. After talking on the phone with my mother –”How dare somebody talk to MY baby like that! OH NO! You need me to fly over there???”–I am exhorted to report his behind.

      And I do. Come to find out his superior is the same exact faculty member that I recognized chatting with him the night before. And they’re best buds. Fantastic. Mr. Demenez is very charming. The exact opposite of Satoshi. He tells me a little about Satoshi’s background: He was raised by a harsh and strict Japanese father. Growing up he was always sensitive about his Japanese heritage and simply wants to be seen as an American. Things that wouldn’t upset most people, like innocent email inquiries, anger him while things that WOULD upset most people, such as harsh speaking, don’t. I’m not the first person to report Satoshi. He has reduced students to tears. Mr. Demenez then tells me that Satoshi feels that everyone is out to get him. He feels everyone’s against him (ya think?). After our meeting was over I unfortunately came away from Mr. D’s office thinking he will simply give Satoshi a slap on the wrist. Like he did with all the other complaints. Which is why Satoshi Kanazawa still remains a faculty member at LSE. He has friends in high places. Like Mr.Demenez.  

      By the way, Satoshi reassigning me to another advisor was a blessing in disguise.  My new advisor was the sweetest person. You couldn’t have found someone any more opposite than the devil himself.
       

      • Anonymous

        I’m so very sorry you had to deal with that fool Kanazawa, Tiffany, and am glad you lucked into a better advisor.  (The devil has his uses, I suppose. Yet and still, I’m speechless at Kanazawa’s behavior.)   And thank you for the insight.

  • Anonymous

     He’s a disgrace to his race, the human one.  Fraud scientist.  I won’t read those articles he’s written, why bother?  

  • Anonymous

    “it wasn’t because Kanazawa’s work arrived at an unpopular confusion,”

    Best unintentional truth-telling ever.

  • Gaitherl496

    did he leave hitler out of is intellectual lineage. Never heard of  this guy, more importantly can’t believe Psychologhy Today approve of put his blog up on their website. 

  • Ain’t I an African

     What a lot of hatred this man harbours!