John Tooby on Coalitional Politics in Science

Kevin MacDonald

John Tooby is a professor of anthropology at UC-Santa Barbara and, along with his wife Leda Cosmides, prominent in the field of evolutionary psychology. For a whole lot of reasons, we do not see eye-to-eye on pretty much anything related to evolutionary psychology, but Tooby has also criticized me for my work on Judaism and for around ten years they had a note on their website that they were going to refute me—since removed. But I am happy to say that I finally agree with him about something. But first a little background.

Our differences long predate my study of Judaism and go to the heart of how to conceptualize evolutionary psychology. At a time when E. O. Wilson’s sociobiology was still under fire from the left, Tooby and Cosmides designed an evolutionary psychology that would fly under the radar of political correctness. The vicious assault on sociobiology by the left was a sight to behold—culminating in a woman pouring a pitcher of ice water over Wilson’s head at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

But the left succeeded. Evolutionary psychology became ensconced as the heir of sociobiology. The word ‘sociobiology’ was virtually expunged from the lexicon, and the most important academic journal in the field changed its name from Ethology and Sociobiology to Evolution and Human Behavior. I heard it on good authority that Wilson described those who carried out this coup as acting like “beaten dogs.”

Without the baggage of the term ‘sociobiology,’ the field was free to reinvent itself.  The trick was to loudly proclaim the idea that evolution did indeed sculpt the mind, but that all humans were essentially alike because we all evolved in the same Pleistocene environment. This takes issues like race differences completely off the table, and individual differences, as in personality and intelligence, become mere “noise.”

And since we were all the same, the only interesting source of differences between humans was that people were exposed to different environmental contexts in their lifetime. Why is one person more aggressive than another? The evolutionary psych answer is that some people are exposed to contexts that bring out aggression, such as poverty and low social status, or their muscular build makes aggression have greater payoffs — explanations that fit well with a leftist zeitgeist. The  fact that some people have genes that predispose them to be more aggressive than others was out of bounds.

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Evolutionary psychology also posited the “massively modular” mind — the idea that the mind was nothing more than a set of mechanisms each designed to solve a specific problem in our evolutionary past: a mechanism for falling in love, a mechanism for finding someone sexually attractive, one for fearing snakes, etc.

This neatly avoids talking about IQ — the one measure that is most feared by the left. That’s because differences in IQ are powerfully associated with success in modern societies, because IQ is strongly genetically influenced,  and, most importantly, because we don’t have any environmental interventions capable of getting rid of race differences in IQ in developed societies. IQ doesn’t fit well with evolutionary psychology because intelligence was not designed to solve any particular problem from our evolutionary past. Rather, it was designed to integrate information from a wide range of areas and use this information to solve novel problems. Humans can solve a whole lot of problems that were not around in the environments we evolved in. That’s why it’s important  for success in school — and modern life.

There are other differences as well, on the theory of learning (here, p. 29ff), as well as prefrontal control of evolved modules sensitive to cultural input, and the theory of culture generally. My theory of culture emphasizes that intellectual endeavor and quite a bit of what passes as science is actually the result of coalition of interest. My book, The Culture of Critique, essentially argues that strongly identified Jews formed the backbone of intellectual coalitions that were intended to advance Jewish ethnic interests. So I was pleased to read the following from Tooby’s Edge article on “coalitional instincts.

Coalition-mindedness makes everyone, including scientists, far stupider in coalitional collectivities than as individuals. Paradoxically, a political party united by supernatural beliefs can revise its beliefs about economics or climate without revisers being bad coalition members. But people whose coalitional membership is constituted by their shared adherence to “rational,” scientific propositions have a problem when—as is generally the case—new information arises which requires belief revision. To question or disagree with coalitional precepts, even for rational reasons, makes one a bad and immoral coalition member—at risk of losing job offers, her friends, and her cherished group identity. This freezes belief revision.

Forming coalitions around scientific or factual questions is disastrous, because it pits our urge for scientific truth-seeking against the nearly insuperable human appetite to be a good coalition member. Once scientific propositions are moralized, the scientific process is wounded, often fatally.  No one is behaving either ethically or scientifically who does not make the best-case possible for rival theories with which one disagrees.

All of the intellectual movements reviewed in The Culture of Critique involved shared adherence to doctrines that had a flimsy grounding (if any) in scientific research, and questioning the doctrines brought shame and ostracism. The fact that a century passed without any evidence for the Oedipal Complex had no effect on Freud’s followers, any more than research on ethnocentrism or race differences would influence the Frankfurt School or the Boasians.

In the intellectual world, group cohesiveness has facilitated the advocacy of particular viewpoints within academic professional associations (e.g., the Boasian program within the American Anthropological Association; psychoanalysis within the American Psychiatric Association). Rothman and Lichter (1982, 104–105) note that Jews formed and dominated cohesive subgroups with a radical political agenda in several academic societies in the 1960s, including professional associations in economics, political science, sociology, history, and the Modern Language Association. They also suggest a broad political agenda of Jewish social scientists during this period: “We have already pointed out the weaknesses of some of these studies [on Jewish involvement in radical political movements]. We suspect that many of the ‘truths’ established in other areas of the social sciences during this period suffer from similar weaknesses. Their widespread acceptance . . . may have had as much to do with the changing ethnic and ideological characteristics of those who dominated the social science community as they did with any real advance in knowledge” (Rothman & Lichter 1982, 104). Sachar (1992, 804) notes that the Caucus for a New Politics of the American Political Science Association was “overwhelmingly Jewish” and that the Union of Radical Political Economists was initially disproportionately Jewish. Moreover, as Higham (1984, 154) notes, the incredible success of the Authoritarian Personality studies was facilitated by the “extraordinary ascent” of Jews concerned with anti-Semitism in academic social science departments in the post– World War II era.

Once an organization becomes dominated by a particular intellectual perspective, there is enormous intellectual inertia created by the fact that the informal networks dominating elite universities serve as gatekeepers for the next generation of scholars. Aspiring intellectuals, whether Jewish or gentile, are subjected to a high level of indoctrination at the undergraduate and graduate levels; there is tremendous psychological pressure to adopt the fundamental intellectual assumptions that lie at the center of the power hierarchy of the discipline. As discussed in Chapter 1, once a Jewish-dominated intellectual movement attains intellectual predominance, it is not surprising that gentiles would be attracted to Jewish intellectuals as members of a socially dominant and prestigious group and as dispensers of valued resources. Group cohesiveness can also be seen in the development of worshipful cults that have lionized the achievements of group leaders (Boasian anthropology and psychoanalysis) (Chapter 6, 224-225)

Real science is individualist, not a product of coalitions:

I propose that a minimal requirement of a scientific social system is that science not be conducted from an ingroup-outgroup perspective. Scientific progress (Campbell’s “competence-of reference”) depends on an individualistic, atomistic universe of discourse in which each individual sees himself or herself not as a member of a wider political or cultural entity advancing a particular point of view but as an independent agent endeavoring to evaluate evidence and discover the structure of reality. As Campbell (1986, 121–122) notes, a critical feature of science as it evolved in the seventeenth century was that individuals were independent agents who could each replicate scientific findings for themselves.  Scientific opinion certainly coalesces around certain propositions in real science (e.g., the structure of DNA, the mechanisms of reinforcement), but this scientific consensus is highly prone to defection in the event that new data cast doubt on presently held theories. (Chapter 6, p. 235)

And as Tooby notes as a general rule, there were indeed strong moral overtones to being a coalition member in the movements reviewed in CofC. As I noted in Chapter 6 (p. 213)

Collectively, these movements have called into question the fundamental moral, political, and economic foundations of Western society. A critical feature of these movements is that they have been, at least in the United States, top-down movements in the sense that they were originated and dominated by members of a highly intelligent and highly educated group. These movements have been advocated with great intellectual passion and moral fervor and with a very high level of theoretical sophistication.

Dissenters were expelled and vilified as moral cretins (and intellectual morons). To dissent was to place oneself outside of polite society. These coalitions had access to the moral and intellectual high ground of the society — prestigious university presses, academic departments able to turn out compliant graduate students, and the elite media. Under these conditions, the coalitions become immune to criticism.

Finally, Tooby might want to think about the extent to which evolutionary psychology itself became a coalition of like-minded people able to marginalize dissenters and ignore unpleasant findings — findings that conflict with the leftist zeitgeist that dominates universities today. Coalitions are indeed the death of science, and prima facie,  designing an evolutionary science able to fly under the radar of political correctness is not a great strategy for discovering scientific truth.

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11 Comments to "John Tooby on Coalitional Politics in Science"

  1. BlackedOut's Gravatar BlackedOut
    January 3, 2017 - 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Seems to apply to those that are part of the climate change “consensus”.

  2. Terry's Gravatar Terry
    January 3, 2017 - 10:12 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for posting this. As you indicate, the role of coalitions in the practice of science is omnipresent but often more implicit than explicit in the awareness of practitioners. That is, many disciples of particular viewpoints don’t seem to be aware of the extent to which the need for group cohesiveness influences their beliefs. Coalitions certainly interfere with progress within science, as do extra-scientific coalitions that further dictate which topics and findings are acceptable, regardless of their truth value. I have always resisted jumping on bandwagons, and it was largely because of the Tooby-dominated orthodoxy/groupthink of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society—as well as what I viewed as its unwarranted, ideologically motivated dismissal of your work on Judaism as a group evolutionary strategy—that prompted me to leave HBES over a decade ago.

  3. Tim Howells's Gravatar Tim Howells
    January 4, 2017 - 8:36 am | Permalink

    Good news about Tooby. Trump Effect? The geneticist James Thompson noted in an Unz Review article that he had trouble recently taking a survey of his colleagues, possibly because “… climate research has poisoned the academic atmosphere, and no-one wants to be involved with anything which smacks of consensus science.” The once vice-like grip of political correctness is beginning to slip. Things can change very fast now, I think.

  4. Whitey Lew's Gravatar Whitey Lew
    January 4, 2017 - 10:53 am | Permalink

    “To question or disagree with coalitional precepts, even for rational reasons, makes one a bad and immoral coalition member—at risk of losing job offers, her friends, and her cherished group identity.”

    Not if she is good looking.

  5. Peter's Gravatar Peter
    January 4, 2017 - 5:17 pm | Permalink

    “The fact that a century passed without any evidence for the Oedipal Complex had no effect on Freud’s followers, any more than research on ethnocentrism or race differences would influence the Frankfurt School or the Boasians.” I can see why coalitions would corrupt science. What I find so interesting about Jews strong ethnocentrism and Professor MacDonald’s very convincing evidence of it, is that it flies in the face of everything we’ve been told about Jews, or at least everything I believed about Jews for most of my life, which was a direct outgrowth of things I read or heard about them. The fact that racism or ethnocentrism was always ascribed to everyone else and Jews were constantly portrayed as the victims of others ethnocentrism, without ever saying Jews were ethnocentric themselves led many people to their beliefs. Just constantly portraying Jews as the victims of others gives them an aura of innocence. Add to that the fact that any criticism of Jews makes someone a horrible human being, a “NAZI”, racist or even worse and it explains a lot about the world we live in. Still today, anything said about Jews by someone in an official position that is even slightly critical will lead to world condemnation of that person.

    I think this explains how the president of modern day Russia (Putin) can say Jews completely dominated the Soviet Union’s government and were leaders in founding that same government, a government that deliberately starved millions of Ukrainians to death, not to mention the millions of Russians and others that perished under that government and no one points a finger at Jews for being mass murderers, or guilty in any way. Even while mentioning this fact, President Putin was careful to say that Jews were victims of their own policies too. This leads you to believe that whatever they did, they did it for a better country or world, even making their own people suffer for a better world. Everything Jews do is with the noblest intentions in mind. Add to that that they are a “light unto the nations” and put on earth so that mankind will be more peaceful and you have a convincing explanation of why the Jews biggest enemy in WW II ended up fighting most of the world. I guess President Putin deliberately left out the fact that “anti-semitism” was outlawed in the USSR. That might suggest they did something on their own behalf.

    • January 7, 2017 - 3:05 pm | Permalink


      Just constantly portraying Jews as the victims of others gives them an aura of innocence.

      Robert Trivers, evolutionary biologist and sociobiologist, makes this observation about deception in the animal kingdom:

      Repeatedly what we find now in wasps, in birds, and in monkeys, that organisms, when they realize they are being deceived get “pissed off.” They often attack the deceiver, but especially if the deceiver is over-representing him or herself. If you are under-representing yourself and showing yourself as having less dominance than you really have or whatnot, no you’re not [going to get the same hostile reaction as if you were over-representing your dominance.] And the ones that attack you are precisely those whose dominance status you are attempting to expropriate or mimic.

      It suggests some of the dynamic in which fear of being detected while deceiving can be a secondary signal precisely because if you are detected you may get your “butt kicked” or you may get chased out.

      So if you over-represent your power and are discovered, you will get attacked more than if you under-represent your power and are discovered.

      This perhaps illustrates why the Jewish collective consistently under-represent their power and goes out of their way to pose as the “victim” or “oppressed” or “marginalized.” When their actual power level is discovered to be much greater than it appears, it tends to lessen the counter-attack.

      • silviosilver's Gravatar silviosilver
        January 9, 2017 - 8:11 pm | Permalink

        Supremacists of other groups tend to boast about how awesome they are; Jewish supremacists boast about how powerless and oppressed they are. (Jews boast about being awesome as well, but you have to dig deep to discover it.) This minimizes the chances of detection.

        The charge of “anti-semitism,” and its association with a carefully cultivated image of moral depravity, minimizes the impact of detection.

  6. T. J.'s Gravatar T. J.
    January 5, 2017 - 5:07 pm | Permalink

    The genetic patterns of some folks make them oppose the study of genetics.

  7. Standing's Gravatar Standing
    January 5, 2017 - 6:34 pm | Permalink

    We know what Wikipedia stands for… Still, if you look at its entries on John Tooby and Leda Cosmides, and compare them with the entry on Dr. MacDonald in terms of volume and substance of information, you know who is the towering figure here and who has had an acutal profound impact on the contemporary world.

  8. January 8, 2017 - 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Is it possible that moderator(s) could provide an occasional report? I’d love to know how opposition people change and twist their comments; perhaps this will help in identifying new trends in lying.
    (Mod. Note: Fascinating question, “rerevisionist”. Unfortunately I can’t share the information you request, but you are “on to something” this moderator deals with every day.)

  9. David Ashton's Gravatar David Ashton
    January 10, 2017 - 2:39 am | Permalink

    “The ‘victims’ have become the ‘totems'” – Oswald Mosley.

    Totem and taboo!

Comments are closed.