Saturday, July 29, 2017

This month's issue of Skeptic Magazine

I'm a regular reader of Skeptic magazine. Even though they have (like so many things) taken a turn towards politicization of their articles (such as their stance on global warming, which they have decreed is impossible to be skeptical about), but especially for someone like me who is deeply involved in magical and mystical things, it's important to remain grounded and to constantly remind oneself and train one's mind to look for mundane explanations before automatically leaping to a supernatural agency (although it's also important not to go too far and say that everything must have a scientific explanation). It makes the really supernatural stuff all the more awesome.

That said, the issue currently on newsstands (Volume 22, Number 2) has a cover story about artificial intelligence, which is definitely an interest of mine, and thus I dutifully bought the issue. But what should I find within but a plethora of articles about, you guessed it, race and politics.

First up is "Are You An Unconscious Racist?" by social psychologist Carol Tavris. This, unexpectedly, is a wonderful critique of the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which purports to measure unconscious racial bias. The article gives in-depth criticisms of both the efficacy of the test itself and what it really measures (as opposed to what its designers thought they were measuring), but also how it is still being misused today:
...does the IAT really capture unconscious prejudices? Can the test predict whether people will actually behave in a biased or discriminatory way? The evidence is now pretty clear that the answers to both are "no."
That is followed up by "The Rise of the Alt-Right and the Politics of Polarization in America", by associate professor of criminal justice and author of a bunch of anti-"extreme right" books George Michael. Right off the bat I found the title of this article off-putting, seeming to blame, as it does, the current political polarization on the Alt-Right, rather than the blame being shared (in my opinion) by both sides of the political aisle. Michael takes us on a tour of some of the luminaries of the Alt Right movement; Richard Spencer, Jared Taylor, Kevin MacDonald, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, Matthew Heimbach, and Alexander Dugin, as well as Breitbart News.

Predictably, and unfortunately, the article reeks of bias, as was to be expected given the author. He blames Trump and the Alt Right as the purveyors of "entryism", which has in fact been a tool of the far left for generations; burrow into a sub-culture or institution and politicize it. We've seen it on display in Neopaganism, but to Michael it's only something that the right does. Similarly, he claims "conspiracy theories have long resonated with the far right," although the number of left-wingers who trot out conspiracy theories about vaccines, GMOs, and most recently, Trump-Russia "collusion."

All in all, it's a pretty terrible article, trying to paint the Alt Right in as bad a light as possible, ignoring parallels among the Ctrl Left, and ultimately trying to undermine Donald Trump by making false associations with the boogeyman of the hour, the Alt Right.

Finally, we have "Is Race a Useful Concept?" by graduate student of genetics Razib Khan and associate professor of epidemiology and criminal justice Brian Boutwell. It begins by splitting the baby, somewhat:
We seek to address a singular, simple question: are racial classifications (Black, White, Hispanic, etc.) a pure social construction, or are they "real" on some deeper biological level? Scientific advances continue to converge on a single, clear, conclusion: Race is a useful social construction that maps onto a biological reality.
The article then goes into the genetic component of race, the value of social constructs, and compares the concept of race to that of species, which is as they say "slippery." On the whole it's a nice little article, although it doesn't really bring a lot of detail to the discussion, that isn't its purpose. It's setting out to start the conversation in a way that doesn't bow to the conventional progressive view of the subject, and I daresay the letters column in the next issue of the magazine will be interesting indeed.

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