Psychology Wiki

Scientific racism

34,203pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk0 Share

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Professional Psychology: Debating Chamber · Psychology Journals · Psychologists

Scientific racism is racist propaganda disguised as science. The phrase is used either as an accusation or to describe what is generally considered to be historical racist propaganda about the supposed inferiority or superiority of certain races. The phrase has been applied retroactively to publications on race as far back as the 18th century. Many subsequently disproven claims of scientific conclusion have been used as advocacy for racist policies. Proponents of often controversial or taboo present day research almost always deny the accusation. The validity of what is represented as scientific research is often judged by its adherence to the scientific method.


Earliest examples of scientific racism Edit

Races and skulls

Image from a 19th century publication which implied that the "Negro race" ranked between whites and chimpanzees

Regular publications on race and other claimed differences between people of different geographical locations began at least as early as the 18th century. It was especially during the end of the 19th century, though, when publications specifically ranking different groups of people became extremely popular. Arthur Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853-1855) was one of the milestone in the new racist discourse, along with Vacher de Lapouge's "anthroposociology" and Herder, who applied "race" to nationalist theory to develop militant ethnic nationalism. They posited the historical existence of "national races" such as German and French, branching from basal races supposed to have existed for millennia, such as the "Aryan race", and believed political boundaries should mirror these supposed racial ones.

The famous German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer also possessed a distinctly hierarchical racial concept of history, attributing civilizational primacy, on naturalistic grounds, to the "white races" who gained their sensitivity and intelligence by refinement in the rigorous North:

"The highest civilization and culture, apart from the ancient Hindus and Egyptians, are found exclusively among the white races; and even with many dark peoples, the ruling caste or race is fairer in colour than the rest and has, therefore, evidently immigrated, for example, the Brahmans, the Incas, and the rulers of the South Sea Islands. All this is due to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention because those tribes that emigrated early to the north, and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want and misery, which in their many forms were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in order to make up for the parsimony of nature and out of it all came their high civilization.” (Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays, Volume II, Section 92)

Human zoos were an important means of bolstering "popular racism", while being at the same time an object of anthropology and anthropometry; they were sometimes called "ethnographic exhibitions". Starting in the 1870s, they were common until World War II, and the concept has even survived until the 21st century.

The attention focused on race leading up to, during, and after the American Civil War led to a proliferation of works looking at the physiological differences between Caucasians and Negroes, with a large amount of attention paid to the question of "miscegenation." Work by early anthropologists such as Josiah Clark Nott, George Robins Gliddon, Robert Knox, and Samuel George Morton attempted to prove scientifically that Negroes were not the same species as Caucasians, and alleged that the rulers of Ancient Egypt were not actually Africans, and that racial mixture provided infertile or weak offspring. In the years after the Civil War, Southern physicians wrote text after text outlining different scientific studies which sought to prove that the Negro was dying out as a race under the conditions of freedom, implying that the system of slavery had been beneficial.

Morton drawing

An 1839 drawing by Samuel George Morton of "a Negro head… a Caucasian skull… a Mongol head."

This sort of work continued through the early 20th century, but soon intelligence testing became a new source for comparisons between races. Poorly designed studies appeared to justify the claim that "Negroes," as well as Eastern Europeans and Jews, were physically and mentally inferior to whites from Northern Europe. In the United States, eugenicists such as Harry H. Laughlin and Madison Grant sought to justify policies such as compulsory sterilization and immigration restriction by using scientific research to show that certain populations of people were physically or mentally inadequate.

Challenges from within the scientific communityEdit

Much of the actual science used in certain early physical anthropological studies on race has been discredited as highly flawed, usually from methodological standpoints. The early IQ tests used during intelligence testing of soldiers during World War I, for example, were found later to have measured acculturation to the USA more than they did any latent intelligence. Multiple-choice questions included such highly context-based questions as: "Crisco is a: patent medicine, disinfectant, toothpaste, food product" and "Christy Mathewson is famous as a: writer, artist, baseball player, comedian." Not surprisingly, recent immigrants to the USA did poorly on such questions, and the intelligence scores correlated most significantly with the number of years spent immersed in American culture. However, modern studies on race and intelligence have overcome many of these concerns, and the subject remains one of intense interest because they continue to show differences between races.

Until the 1920s, however, such work was not regarded as being anything other than a form of science. It was criticisms and new work by the cultural anthropologist Franz Boas that began, slowly, to point out methodological errors and to allege that political and ideological bias was affecting the conclusions more than the observations made. Through the 1920s and 1930s, the Boasian school of cultural anthropology began to compete with and even replace the school of physical anthropology, in a bitter institutional battle. Eventually the Boasians were defeated — see Occidental Quarterly, 2004.

In the early 1930s, the government of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler utilized highly racialized scientific rhetoric based on social Darwinism for pushing its restrictive and discriminatory social policies. When World War II broke out, the Nazi approach to race became anathema in the United States, and Boasians such as Ruth Benedict were able to consolidate their institutional power. In the years after the war, the discovery of the Holocaust and the Nazi abuses of scientific research (such as the ethical violations of Josef Mengele and other war crimes which were revealed at the Nuremberg Trials) led to a widespread repudiation of the use of science to support racist causes within the scientific community.

In response to the German racial propaganda, many geneticists, especially Julian Huxley and Alfred C. Haddon, along with certain anthropologists, published works denouncing the Nazi views on race and the studies they purported to be based on. Some of the anthropologist's works were even made into anti-racist propaganda and distributed widely in the form of pamphlets. Many began to identify Nazi Germany specifically with many racist attitudes which had previously been accepted (indeed, Nazi Germany did not develop them in a bubble, and many like-minded scientists had institutional support in the U.S. and U.K. as well), and after the war this had a great effect on how the public and scientists viewed research which made strong statements about the superiority or inferiority of races, even to the point that any scientific studies of racial differences, were viewed as being beyond the pale.

In the decades after the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, increased attention was paid to those who attempted to use science to justify purportedly racist viewpoints. Many scientists who had previously published works relating to racial differences moved into other fields. Robert Yerkes, for example, had previously worked on the World War I Army intelligence testing, but in the years that followed moved instead into the field of primatology.

Also symptomatic of this change in conditions were effort of international bodies such as UNESCO to draft resolutions that attempted to summarize the state of scientific knowledge about race and issue calls for the resolution of racial conflicts. In its 1950 The Race Question [1] UNESCO declared that "A race, from the biological standpoint, may therefore be defined as one of the group of populations constituting the species Homo sapiens", which were broadly defined as the Mongoloid, Negroid, and the Caucasoid "divisions" but stated that "It is now generally recognized that intelligence tests do not in themselves enable us to differentiate safely between what is due to innate capacity and what is the result of environmental influences, training and education." To this day, the 1950 UNESCO Statement is controversial among some scientists because of its message (some, such as R. A. Fisher, vehemently disagreed with it) and its purpose (some objected to what was perceived as a political declaration about what science did or did not "say"). It clearly did not ascribe to the denial of the reality of race point of view.

In 1978, a similar sort of declaration UNESCO Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice [2]. This Statement proclaimed that no race was superior to any other, but in contrast to the 1950 statement, hardly mentioned science but rather relied more on "moral and ethical principles of humanity." The corresponding 2001 statement by UNESCO, Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity [3] does not mention race at all, nor does it use "science" as the underpinning justification for its views on cultural diversity. Views, or at least the language, of racial discourse, have clearly evolved over the half-century.

Modern usageEdit

The labeling of a work today as being "scientific racism" is generally meant to imply that the research has been politically motivated and is attempting to justify racist ideology through the use of a veneer of science. This labeling is challenged by those who have conducted this research, who claim that their work was indeed objective and that the attempts to denounce it are acts of political correctness or censorship. Some have compared the attacks on their work as akin to Lysenkoism.

Some of the work of such scientists of the nineteenth century, such as the naturalist Charles Darwin, contain statements and ideas which would be considered racist in the current cultural context, but in their time were either typical for their Victorian context or even less racist than many other contemporary scientific views. For example, Darwin believed in a hierarchy of the human races (with Europeans at the top and Native Americans at or near the bottom), as did most Victorian scientists. However, Darwin was however even less racist in this belief than much of the anthropological community of his time, who argued that other races were not even of the same species as Europeans, an idea Darwin vehemently opposed.

Few scientists today argue about the superiority or inferiority of races, but many are interested in, and publish on, the various differences between and among the races of man. For example, the very large collaborative study known as the HapMap project, which is an outgrowth of the huge Human Genome Project, has exhaustively made available to all the SNP frequency differences between four groups or populations (races), Han Chinese, Tokyo Japanese, Northern Europeans, and Nigerian Yoruba. It is well known today that many diseases are influenced by genes, that it is important and beneficial to understand the links between genes and disease, and how the frequencies of both differ between races. Using powerful new laboratory techniques such as PCR, DNA microarrays, and bioinformatics together with modern statistical methods, these connections are being intensively studied around the world by the medical community.

The attacks on scientific research into racial differences on these studies are much less frequent and muted than those directed at researchers who study behavioral, and, especially, intelligence differences between the races. These latter differences, while comparatively easy to demonstrate, have cause(s) that are much more difficult to determine because of the many confounding effects, partly rooted in historical and economic circumstances. These studies are also relatively value laden, which tends to increase the emotional temperature of the debate somewhat.

Among those most prominently attacked as scientific racists in the late 20th century have been Arthur Jensen (The g Factor: The Science of Mental Ability), J. Philippe Rushton (Race, Evolution, and Behavior), Richard Lynn (IQ and the Wealth of Nations), and Richard Herrnstein (The Bell Curve), among others. Many critics of these authors, such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin, claimed that their refusal to renounce their work to indicate racist motivations. In turn, Gould has been accused by a number of scientists of misrepresenting their work and of being motivated in these attacks by his political views. Jenson published a rebuttal of Gould's accusations in The Debunking of Scientific Fossils and Straw Persons [4]. Both Gould and Lewontin have given a course titled Biology as a Social Weapon, which, Gould explained, was intended to foster "a powerful political and moral vision of how science, properly interpreted and used to empower all the people, might truly help us to be free." Gould also served on the advisory boards of the journal Rethinking Marxism and the Brecht Forum. The Brecht Forum is a sponsor of the New York Marxist School.

As another example, In 1996, Edinburgh University psychologist Chris Brand, whose work involves IQ, broke with convention by indicating that he was a 'race realist.' He was fired after a sixteen-month battle with his university (though later compensated financially for 'unfair dismissal')[5][6].

The question of who is being more political — either those to whom the term is applied or those who apply the term — is itself a source of much dispute. Some critics have argued that the entire attempt to compare races using science is impossibly fraught with methodological problems, and that even if it were not, nothing good could come from the research. Those who support such work generally appeal to the more idealistic goals of scientific knowledge, and many have implied that social policy should be tailored around accurate scientific knowledge of such differences, if they exist.

As a result of this historical evolution of the idea of race, the pejorative term "scientific racism" or simply "racism" is still sometimes incorrectly applied even to those activities of scientists who seek to understand the nature of the differences between races or geographically separated populations for medical, anthropological, or even genealogical purposes. Recently, the discovery of many Ancestry-informative markers in the human genome has provided powerful new tools for distinguishing populations, and can serve as replacements for the historical, more subjective variables which sometimes vary little between races.

See alsoEdit



This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.

Also on Fandom

Random Wiki