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Satoshi Kanazawa

Dear Reader,

It has come to my attention that a Dr Satoshi Kanazawa has made the claim in a blog entry that black women are less attractive than white, Asian or native American women.

I am not a man who is easy to shock but this claim shocks me. I am shocked because it appears to be a very racist comment.

Satoshi Kanazawa wrote “The only responsibility scientists have is to the truth. Scientists are not responsible for the potential or actual consequences of the knowledge they create”. I strongly disagree, science does not occur in a moral vacuum islanded away from the rest of society.


I hold the view that a person working on project which has clear misuse potential should make a great effort to ensure that their work does not have a negative impact on society. For example it is unwise to publish a detailed synthetic procedure for making sarin by a new and easier route or for a novel street drug such as “spice” (JWH-018). Here a responsible scientist should take care to avoid providing evil doers with a “how to guide”.

Likewise if the work you are doing has the potential to be misused by bigots of any color, creed or persuasion then you have a special duty to make sure that what you are publishing is not simply an experimental artifact (a false result generated because of errors, random uncertainties or mistakes in the experiment).

I worry that Satoshi Kanazawa may have found a freak result which supports his hypothesis, how do we know that his data set truthfully represents the views of the general population. Also does the cultural bias of the population he studied account for the result. If he repeated the study in Africa, China, Brazil and Europe would he get a very different result? After seeing a copy of his blog entry I do not think he has meet the standard of proof required for such a controversal paper.

Because Satoshi Kanazawa has taken on the mantle of a scientist I would like to consider if he is truly a man of science. To me much of science is about hypothesis testing, while it might be reasonable to use any system of thought to create a theory. The theory must be subjected to a fair and reasonable test. This test of the theory is the mark of a scientist.

This event reminds me of the sorry saga of Frank Ellis (Leeds) who is known for his views on the relationship between race and intelligence. During this event two opposing camps in the UK academic community appeared. One camp wanted to defend Frank’s academic freedom to hold and express views which are different or unpopular. Before I go any further I want to make it clear that university academics often do hold views which are outlandish, unpopular or different to the consensus view held by the majority of society.

The holding of dissident views is a perfectly healthy and normal part of university (and national) life, but the freedom to hold such views should not be confused with a license to be offensive, racist or bigoted. My own personal opinion is that no matter what society’s laws are a university has a duty to establish and maintain an environment on campus where bigotry (in all its irksome forms) is unlikely to thrive. The academic staff of a university should lead by example by neither behaving in a bigoted way nor tolerating bigotry on campus.

The second camp in the Ellis saga wanted the university to take action to prevent Ellis encouraging racism from the pulpit of his academic post.

Frank Ellis has the freedom to hold unpopular views. But he needs to take responsibility for his words and actions. He also needs to comply with the law of the land. The Race Relations (Amendment) Act of 2000 requires that “public bodies have a duty to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between different races”. This means that it may well be unlawful for him to express his views at the university.





4 Responses

  1. From what I’ve read elsewhere, Kanazawa employed statistical methods of dubious merit, on data with arguable value, and got the result he was looking for:


    Quite aside from what Kanazawa was doing with the data, I struggle to understand the value of surveying interviewers to see how attractive they thought the people they were interviewing for the Add Health research; that’s only going to tell you what the interviewers thought. Although maybe then you could have a site called ‘The US Government Thinks I’m Hot (Or not)’ …

  2. Well I have read another of his papers and it does not prove his point.

    In his paper he argues that changes in the level of the male sex hormone (testostrone) is responsible for a scientists change in productivity during his life. The problem is that he failed to consider the alternative explanation which is the idea that outsiders who are not part of the inner community of a field are oftein responsible for major advances. I think it might relate to the ideas of Kuhn.

    I will have to check my text book on the theory of scientific thought to get / confirm the right name. If ant theory of scientific thought experts are reading then please tell me who I am thinking of.

  3. Well, I did do a year on the philosophy of scientific method, so I’m partially equipped to answer that. Kuhn’s paradigm shifts aren’t necessarily advances, so much as revolutions in scientific thought; the kinetic theory of heat isn’t a refinement and improvement of the caloric theory, it is a replacement.

    Whether these shifts come more from young scientists than ones that spend twenty years in the field doing research before generating something groundbreaking is something I suppose you could crunch the data to try to imply, but the problem (in some sense) is that a Kuhnian revolution isn’t like the 1917 revolution; the old scientists don’t get shot, they just tend to fade away over time. But the masterminds of revolutions aren’t usually the people on the front line.

    Did Kanazawa posit anything useful? Does he think that if we shot up some 50 year old scientists with testosterone, they’d get more productive? Does he think Marie Curie would have done better if she’d had a Y chromosome? And what about all the eighteen-year old lads riding motorbikes and getting drunk? Certainly a lot of testosterone there, but not much application of the scientific method.

    From these papers, it sounds to me like Kanazawa doesn’t [want to] understand that constant correlation and causation aren’t the same thing. We could test this by selling him my magical tiger-repelling lampshade (it’s in my house, and there’s never been a tiger in my house, so it must be really good at repelling tigers).

    • I like the idea of a tiger repelling lampshade, are they in IKEA yet ?

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