July 8, 2011 | 2
Satoshi Kanazawa, not-to-be-confused-with-Kwanzaa’s Seven Principles, the Scientific Fundamentalist drew fire and eventually was fired for a for a now infamous posting in Psychology Today. He landed a host of sneers and assaults and has put the field of Evolutionary Psychology on the fore of the controversy. In a good way, I can’t say I have ever seen the Black Twitter and Science Blog World more up in arms over the same controversy. First off, Evolutionary Psychology is the malformed sibling of real science – biology and psychology, in particular. Since its inception Evolutionary Psychology has been steeped in criticism. As a biologist trained in the tradition of evolution, behavioral ecology and ethology, the problem I have with evolutionary psychology is that it tries to present a singular simple answer to complex questions related to human behavior. The so-called hypotheses are often formulated from vague assumptions about the state of the mind, the environment, and the consequences of the behaviors in question somewhere in the evolutionary past. Where is this past? When is this past? We don’t know. We never know. It’s just somewhere far, far away in a time long ago. It assumes that every behavior we see today was specially selected and passed along because it was needed for survival and for a very specific purpose – the one the researcher is discussing in the present.
But back to to Kanazawa’s claims that Black women are the least attractive women in the world. I wonder, what does that really mean? Does he mean the facial and physical features of black women are less attractive than the facial and physical features of non-black women? I was curious about this, so I read the original post that stirred all the controversy. Link here. Setting aside the sting of his conclusions, because I cannot deny that I took it personally, I find myself – rightfully – criticizing his science, his hypothetical approach, methods, results, and conclusions he draws.
First, he does not explain how he objectively measures attractiveness. He merely says that attractiveness of Black, White, Asian and Native American respondents are rated by three different interviewers over a seven year period. What is this attractiveness scale? Is it based on facial or physical features? Is it based on symmetry or just personal feelings about what is pretty or not? It isn’t clear from the essay.
Second, what is the sample size? We have no idea how many people – total and from each ethnic group – were studied. For all we know he could be drawing all of the conclusions based on seven people from each ethnic group, or one or a thousand. It’s the great unknown.
Third, although he used a fancy statistical analysis to compute averages and create graphs of latent physical attractiveness it doesn’t mean anything. Merely translating subjective information or qualitative data to a number system does not make your data objective or quantitative. It only makes your subjective data quantifiable – a very clear distinction.
Fourth, who were these three interviewers who measured the physical attractiveness of the respondents? How did Kanazawa account for observer bias of three different people? Three? You mean to tell me that you came to the ground breaking conclusion that black women are the least attractive women in the world based on the responses of three people who each only had a one-shot chance to measure the attractiveness of the subjects? For real?
Finally, his conclusions are just plain faulty and really speak to his lack of scientific efficacy:
“The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races…”
Kanazawa makes the assumptive leaps of leaps and posits that because androgen levels are high in Africans then it must be higher in the women folk as well, and that’s why they aren’t as pretty as all of the other women of the world, because they look so manly. Even a middle schooler learning the scientific method for the first time can find the design and interpretation flaws of this conclusion. He dismissed simpler more obvious explanations and jumped right to an outlandishly more complicated and unmeasured conclusion, like observer bias or small sample size. But all he can think of is hormones! Hormones? Did they even measure hormones of the subjects in the study? Did he find a correlation between testosterone levels of subjects and physical attractiveness rates? He says that Africans have higher levels of testosterone on average than all other races as if it is a common fact generally known by everyone. It isn’t. Where is the reference to this study? How was that study designed and what was the aim of it? Are his applications of that information to this study even appropriate?
Furthermore, I find this whole notion of ‘scientifically’ measuring Black women’s attractiveness hilarious, especially since there are multimillion dollar beauty industries that help many non-black women achieve looks that definitely mimic black women’s in appearance. Hair care products that add more volume, thickness, curl, and kink to the hair. Tanning and skin care industries that add more color and appearance of pigment to the skin. Cosmetic industries that offer solutions to make the lips plumper, the skin stay young and supple longer. The under garment industry that designs underwear to create a more voluptuous rear view. And let’s not forget the plastic surgery that offers a more permanent solution to all of the previously mentioned beauty deficits. I find it quite curious that he interprets his data to conclude that Black women are less attractive without parsing out the degree to which other groups of women mimic them for beauty standards.
In the end, neither I nor most of the scientific community are surprised that he was let go. I just hope we have all learned our lessons about race-baiting science and will do our parts to starve them of the attention these not-nice people want so badly
Secrets of the Universe: Past, Present, FutureX