fuck yeah, autism research needs a marxist gender inquisition

I hate to have to do this, but now I have to explain why Christopher Badcock is an asshole. This is him:

Those ideas have helped me to make sense of my own life, in which “psychotomimetic” drugs do seem to help me, and I’m autistic. Imprinting is a real thing, normal for mammals. It seems to be a genuinely deep insight.

However, notice how he looks forward to a future where autistic people are seen as deviating from the norm, as an improvement on the current way of looking at them (!). I don’t know about the institution where he works, but the word “economics” is a red flag.

It turns out that Badcock is a perfect case study in what’s wrong with evolutionary psychology. What drew my attention is this article: Male Risk of Autism: No One Expects the Spanish Inquisition!. His clever observation is that the Inquisition considered ideas which might lead to sin as unsafe. Then he quotes this abstract to show that, by gosh, people are saying evolutionary psychology is unsafe!

Autism has become a ‘biomedical platform’ for sex differences research in fields such as genetics, endocrinology and neuroscience. Increasingly, researchers in these fields pose the male prevalence of autism as a model for investigating sex differences in the brain, and offer basic research on sex differences in the brain as a resource for understanding the etiology of autism. The use of autism as a biomedical platform for sex differences research obscures empirical and interpretive contestations surrounding claims about the male prevalence of autism. We argue that the uncritical use of this research platform across many fields stands to distort scientific research on autism and contribute to harmful gender stereotypes.

Yes, it is not hard to find people talking about the underdiagnosis of autism in women and minorities due to stereotypes. Badcock is more than sophisticated enough at science to know that there is no such thing as “the prevalence of autism,” but better or worse ways of estimating it. The methods for making the estimates he’s using have been called into question, and he won’t talk about why. He resorts to talking about the Spanish Inquisition.

As long as a belief in biology—because that is what it comes down to—was only regarded as erroneous, it could be argued about and scientific research into it conducted, albeit unsafely. Indeed, if something you believe is true is labelled “erroneous,” it gives you an incentive to prove your case against countervailing prejudice.

But what people are already calling Gulag Google’s peremptory dismissal of a male member of its staff (would they have dared dismiss a woman, one wonders?) marks a watershed in the debate and sends a clear message to anyone and everyone that belief in biology in relation to group differences in behaviour is now heresy and will be punished with the most severe sanctions. With self-appointed inquisitors of a new, unholy urban inquisition already patrolling multi-national company and university campuses, I can’t help but think that this case is just the start of it and that before long we can expect some spectacular auto-da-fés.

At first he seems like Sober Scientist Man, but then he’s all Kinder, Küche, Kirche. We’ve got inquisitions, gulags, burning at the stake. Really the people burning at the stake are going to be black people, due to Badcock’s political friends.

The scientific credibility is just an investment in being able to make non sequiturs like this and get away with it.

Never miss an opportunity to concern troll.

I have long suspected that the astonishing silence of the media and of official psychology on what The New York Times rightly called “psychiatry’s grandest working theory since Freud” was largely explained by the perceived unsafety and alleged erroneousness of the biology on which it is based. But if belief in that biology is now deemed heretical as the Google case and the quote above suggests, at least another entire generation of the mentally ill will have to suffer before psychiatry adopts the new thinking.

He’s starting to sound like a crank, so he reminds people of the reasonable core of what he’s saying:

All I can say in my own defence is that, contrary to the EMB, the imprinted brain theory proposes that conflicts between paternal and maternal genetic self-interests over the crucial issue of parental investment have driven the evolution of imprinted and X chromosome gene expression in such a way that imbalances in the paternal direction result in autism spectrum disorders and imbalances in the maternal/X direction in psychotic spectrum disorders. Nevertheless, the simple fact that all fathers are male and all mothers female means that you could mistake this much more subtle situation for a simple sex conflict, which it emphatically is not.

He’s all about subtleties and also feminists are the real Nazis. Right…

Finally, I have already hinted in a previous post at the worrying parallels you can see between what is going on in the West today and what happened in the Soviet Union during Trofim Lysenko’s reign of terror as Stalin’s biology czar. But in the USSR the damage was mainly to agriculture and biology if you ignore the murders, imprisonments, exiles and other real affronts to human rights. In today’s West, the focus on the human rights issue may obscure much more fundamental damage to the social, political, and economic infrastructure in the long run—not to mention the harm already being done to science and psychiatry.

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition. All you can do is to hope it’s more Monty Python than Marxist!

Reminder: he’s flipping out and invoking nightmares because someone said THIS. We can’t lose the plot here:

Autism has become a ‘biomedical platform’ for sex differences research in fields such as genetics, endocrinology and neuroscience. Increasingly, researchers in these fields pose the male prevalence of autism as a model for investigating sex differences in the brain, and offer basic research on sex differences in the brain as a resource for understanding the etiology of autism. The use of autism as a biomedical platform for sex differences research obscures empirical and interpretive contestations surrounding claims about the male prevalence of autism. We argue that the uncritical use of this research platform across many fields stands to distort scientific research on autism and contribute to harmful gender stereotypes.

Christopher Badcock’s response to this illustrates how true it is. We have these biological scientists, and all distinctions between scientific objectivity and fascism get blurred as soon as they start talking. This is why we need an inquisition to be sure that their hearts are pure before they’re entrusted with the responsibility of having social authority on matters of gender and social norms.

The social consequences really are arguably worse than the knowledge gained from Badcock’s research. People thinking “biology says women and niggers are stupid” or “autistic people are deviant” hurts my life more than it helps to think, “Oh, neat, a model to explain life experience I already knew!”

Arguments like this always rely on a cartoon understanding of Galileo. From Paul Feyerabend’s The Tyranny of Truth:

Two views are of special interest for our topic. According to the fist view, which is an abstract extreme and which was never popular among the Greeks, an expert is a person whose special knowledge and special skills must not be touched. They must be taken over by the rest of society in the form presented by the experts. Representatives of the second view hold that the ideas of experts should be introduced into society only when the aims of the experts agree with those of the society. They point out that expert in acquiring their expert knowledge often restrict their vision to a considerable extent. They do not study all phenomena, but only those in a special field, and they do not examine all aspects of these special phenomena but only those that are related to their purpose…The ideas of experts reflect this incompleteness. It would, therefore, be foolish to regard them as true or as expressing reality, without further consideration of their limitations.

According to Plato, who held the view just described, the further considerations are to be carried out by philosophers. Philosophers have a sense of perspective that is lacking in the experts. Their aim is the well being of humans and the establishment of a society that furthers this well being.

The opposition between Galileo and the Church may be seen as analogous to the opposition between the first and the second view of expertness. Galileo was an expert in the special domain of mathematics and astronomy. He asserted that astronomical matters should be entirely in the hands of astronomers and only they could be expected to find the correct sense of biblical passages dealing with astronomical matters, as he wrote in his letter to Castelli of 14 December 1613…

The position of the Church, on the other hand, was very similar to the second view. Astronomical knowledge, according to the Church, was important and was actively pursued by some of its members. But the models which the astronomers produced could not be related to reality without further considerations…Bellarmine writes: “It seems to me what your Reverence and Signor Galileo act prudently when you content yourselves with speaking hypothetically and not absolutely…To say that on the supposition of the Earth’s movement and the Sun’s quiescence all the celestial appearances are explained better than by the theory of eccentrics and epicycles is to speak with excellent good sense and to run no risk whatsoever. Such a manner of speaking is enough for a mathematician. But to want to affirm that the Sun, in very truth, is at the center of the universe and only rotates on its axis without going from east to west, is a very dangerous attitude and one calculated not only to arouse all Scholastic philosophers and theologians, but also to injure our Holy Faith by contradicting the Scriptures.” In modern terms astronomers may assert that one model has predictive advantages over another model, but they are mistaken when they assert that the model is, therefore, a faithful image of reality. This sensible principle is part and parcel of modern science. Approximations are a commonplace in the sciences. They are used because they facilitate calculations in a restricted domain…Even a formally perfect theory with surprising predictive power may fail when regarded as a direct expression of reality. Schrodinger’s wave mechanics illustrates this further point. It ws elegant, coherent, easy to handle, and it was remarkably successful. Schrodinger inferred that elementary particles were waves. Yet, looking at a wider range of phenomena, Bohr and his school showed that such an interpretation conflicted with important facts. This last example has immediate application to the case of the Copernican theory, whose coherence and succes were also regarded as a sign of a close correspondence to reality, both by its author, and by writers such as Rheticus and Maestlin. True correspondence to reality, however, requires considerations in a wider domain.

Note that Badcock’s argument depends on a cartoonish oversimplification of history designed to make present-day white guys feel smart.  The Church’s position was actually a lot more reasonable than modern-day global warming denial or economics.

The ability to make subtle philosophical distinctions is no longer being taught.  You can’t actually understand the meaning of science without philosophy of science.

Science is the opposite of conservative denial of reality.  Both views are about navigating a fundamentally indeterminate reality.  Conservatives give up and believe in illusions to feel better.  Scientists slow down and say we’d better be careful how we talk about things.

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