Race Realists: Making racism respectable again
In 1985 Barry Mehler had a dream.
Now in his seventies and a history professor at Ferris State University in Michigan, where he studies genocide, in the mid-1980s Mehler had wandered into the murky territory of investigating the extreme-right-wing fringes of academia. His focus was on the founders of the Mankind Quarterly and Wickliffe Draper’s notorious Pioneer Fund, both of which had been known to help keep fringe elements in science alive for decades. As Mehler worked, he found his waking life began to soak into his subconscious, coloring his sleep. In his dream—in truth, more of a nightmare—his son, then around two years old, was trapped in a runaway car hurtling down a hill towards oblivion.
“The traffic is going in both directions, and I am in the middle of the road desperately waving my hands trying to stop the flow of traffic in order to save the life of my son,” he recalls. “It’s a dream. It’s a metaphor for how I felt.”
For the previous few years, prompted by historical research he had already carried out into early-twentieth-century American eugenicists and their links to Nazi Germany, Mehler had begun looking into what happened to these same scientists and others with similar worldviews once World War II was over. Many people assumed that the eugenicists had all but disappeared with the Nazi regime, and that race science was pretty much finished at the same time. What Mehler learned instead was that the prejudice that had existed before the war—the fear of some kind of threat to the “white race”—was still alive in a few small intellectual circles.
“I was really focused on the ideological continuity between the old and the new, and the fact that these ideologies were malicious and dangerous,” he explains. What worried him most of all as he did his investigations was that these people seemed to now be stepping outside their limited cabal, to penetrate not just mainstream academia but also politics. Their target was nothing short of the highest echelons of the United States government.
One of the key figures in the network to have survived from the old days was Roger Pearson, a founder of the Mankind Quarterly alongside Reginald Ruggles Gates. Pearson’s career trajectory was very different from that of Gates. During World War II he had been an officer in the British Indian Army. In the 1950s he moved into working as the managing director of a group of tea gardens in what was then known as East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. And it was around then that he began publishing newsletters, printed in India, in which he explored issues to do with race, science, and immigration. Very quickly, says Mehler, Pearson connected with like-minded thinkers all over the world. “He really was beginning to organize, institutionally organize, the remnants of the prewar academic scholars who were doing work on eugenics and race. The war had disrupted all of their careers, and after the war they were trying to reestablish themselves. Establishing these institutional networks was essential for their rehabilitation.”
Pearson’s newsletters and the Mankind Quarterly relied on being able to reach out to marginal figures from all over the world, people whose views were generally unacceptable in the societies in which they lived. And of course this task had to be done before the benefit of the internet and social media, before it became easy for like-minded people with extreme views to find each other. “You have these people who seemingly come out of nowhere. It was just so amazing to me that they would be so well networked,” says Mehler.
One of Pearson’s publications was Northlander, which described itself as a monthly review of “pan-Nordic affairs,” by which was meant, euphemistically, white northern Europeans more broadly. Its very first edition, in 1958, complained about the illegitimate children born as a result of “Negro” troops stationed in Germany after the war, and also about immigrants arriving from the West Indies into Britain. “Britain resounds to the sound and sight of primitive peoples and of jungle rhythms,” Pearson warned. “Why cannot we see the rot that is taking place in Britain herself?” On the following page he printed a tribute to Charles Darwin. He had made it his goal to awaken people to what he saw as the existential threat of immigration and racial intermixing, referring to antiracists as “cosmopolitans.”
Within a couple of decades, Pearson ended up in Washington, DC, setting up publications there, too, including the Journal of Indo-European Studies in 1973 and the Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies in 1975. “And that’s what piqued my curiosity,” Mehler continues. “Really looking at people who are racist at a time when liberalism was the predominant ideology.” In April 1982 a letter even arrived for Pearson from the White House, bearing the signature of President Ronald Reagan, in which Reagan praised Pearson for promoting scholars who supported “a free enterprise economy, a firm and consistent foreign policy and a strong national defense.” Somehow, he and those in his circle had managed to gain access to the very peak of the US government. An investigation published by the Independent on Sunday in 1990 confirmed that Pearson received several grants from the Pioneer Fund around the same time.
Just as Mehler was carrying out his research, a soft-spoken civil servant in Washington, DC, named Keith Hurt happened to be investigating the very same people in his spare time. When Mehler’s and Hurt’s paths crossed, the men began combining their research. Hurt was then working for the Congressional Research Service, a branch of the Library of Congress that provides policy analysis to members of the House and Senate, which meant that he was keen to keep his identity private. Today, he tells me, he is free to talk on the record. “I think I started out sort of naïvely,” he admits. “I ran across some things that were disturbing, that I didn’t expect. I didn’t really understand that there were these structures and networks and associations of people that were attempting to keep alive a body of ideas that I had associated with at the very least the pre–civil rights movement in this country, and going back to the eugenics movement early in the last century. These ideas were still being developed and promulgated and promoted in discreet ways.”
Perhaps paradoxically, given the fierce nationalism of the figures involved, this also appeared to be a global network, spanning the United States and Europe and also stretching to India and China. “If you looked at the old Mankind Quarterly, it was a truly international journal, with contributors and editors from all over the world,” says Hurt. To this day, the Mankind Quarterly runs articles from many writers outside Europe, and its advisory board includes members in Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.
“It was important to put together how the networks worked, where the funding came from, what the publications were, what the connections were—and what the connection is with right-wing political organizations,” adds Mehler. What he and Hurt were uncovering astounded them both. “There was a network, an international network of these people who were not particularly well respected or regarded or even known outside of the network, but they had their own journals, their own publishing houses. They could review and comment upon each other’s work,” explains Mehler. “So it was almost like discovering this whole little world inside academia. And it was a rather nefarious world, of people whose origins went back to the Second World War.” What shocked them above all was the sheer professionalism of the operation, the slick ability of people with some of the most extreme views imaginable to connect to each other and communicate their views across thousands of miles. They were keeping scientific racism alive.
Mehler, who is Jewish, found it particularly disturbing. “I have a lot of relatives who survived the Holocaust,” he tells me. “When they flip the light switch and the light goes on, for them it’s like ‘oh wow!’ They are prepared for the world to collapse. They are prepared for things to cease to be normal very quickly because that was their experience.” I can hear the fear in his voice, an anxiety that political stability in even the strongest democracies rests ultimately on a precipice. “I saw anti-Semitism. I was really alienated in American society. I was a person that felt that racism and anti-Semitism were predominant, and that the United States could easily become vicious, racist, and go back to its racist history when push came to shove, if people were threatened enough.” The past, he reminds me, is always capable of repeating itself.
It was around this time, as he and Hurt uncovered the network, that Mehler had his dream. “I felt like I was desperately trying to prevent this from happening again. . . . I thought that we were headed for more genocide,” he says. The parallels between this far-right network of pseudoscientists and intellectuals and the rapid, devastating way in which eugenics research had been translated in Nazi Germany loomed large in Mehler’s mind, terrifying him with the possibility that the brutal atrocities of the past could happen once more, that the ideological heart behind them was still beating.
Despite the urgency that both Barry Mehler and Keith Hurt felt, their investigations never made it into any high-profile publications. They appeared instead in a few small Jewish and left-wing newsletters, often with Hurt’s name omitted, or an alias used, to protect his job at the Congressional Research Service. The lack of public interest reflected how many people assumed they no longer had anything to fear. Neo-Nazi political parties and white supremacists were thought to exist only on the irrelevant margins of real life.
“Race is such a difficult issue for Americans,” explains Hurt. “People want to be optimistic. People want to believe that [racists] exist only in a sort of lunatic fringe, which is safely cabined off from the rest of society and that they have no consequences or implications for the future. That was the case then.” The world was thought to be moving in a liberal, more inclusive direction. Racists were thugs and skinheads, not men in power, not academics, not covert networks.
Then, in May 1988, Mehler and Hurt published an article in The Nation that finally confirmed that there might be reason to worry after all. It linked a professor of educational psychology at the University of Northern Iowa, Ralph Scott to both the Pioneer Fund and the government. Scott had reportedly used his Pioneer grants under a pseudonym between 1976 and 1977 to organize a national antibusing campaign. According to Mehler, some of Scott’s Pioneer Fund money had also been used to sponsor a study in Mississippi looking at the physical and psychological traits of “American Anglo-Saxon children.”
What gave the story national significance was that, in 1985, the Reagan administration had appointed Scott the chair of the Iowa Advisory Commission on Civil Rights, a body with the express purpose of enforcing antidiscrimination legislation across the state. Just a few years earlier, Scott had brought, and later dropped, a lawsuit against three black civil rights activists who had described him as a racist. It was clear that as of 1985, Scott’s views on race hadn’t changed. Even after taking up his influential post, he continued to write pieces for the Mankind Quarterly and Pearson’s Journal of Social, Political, and Economic Studies. Indeed his most recent article for the Mankind Quarterly was published in 2013. Scott, now an emeritus professor, refuses to give me any comments, or to confirm or deny Mehler’s reports. But William Tucker has noted that almost every one of his papers was a variation on the same theme: that integrated schools were holding back white students, and not improving achievement among black students, for the simple reason that the two groups were somehow genetically different.
In short, here in 1985 was a man known to be actively involved in blocking policies aimed at achieving desegregation who had been made officially responsible for defending civil rights in his state. “It was obviously alarming,” says Hurt. This also happened to come at a time when the Reagan administration was already facing criticism for drastically cutting the Civil Rights Commission’s budget, making Scott’s appointment look even more suspect. To outside observers it was hard to avoid speculating that Scott had taken up the position as chair of the commission to undermine it from within.
The month after Mehler and Hurt’s article came out in The Nation, Ralph Scott resigned.
At the time, although the story made some corners of the national press, it wasn’t major headline news. “It was largely dismissed, I would say, by people who in retrospect would probably admit were mistaken to write it off,” says Hurt. Looking back on the case, in the context of today’s politics, with the rise of far-right groups in Europe and the US, and nationalism more globally, he believes that what they uncovered should have served as a warning. Scott was just one individual, but he operated within a larger network of intellectuals opposed to desegregation, including Roger Pearson. “What surprised me was how quickly and efficiently these groups worked,” adds Mehler. “You would think it would be fringe people, and that they would remain on the fringe, and they would have difficulty raising funds and making contacts. That wasn’t true at all. What surprised me was how quickly Roger Pearson went from Calcutta, India, to Washington, DC, to Ronald Reagan.”
Others within academia who have picked up the baton from Mehler and Hurt since then—including William Tucker at Rutgers University, who has done detailed investigations into the Pioneer Fund—have observed how well coordinated and resilient these networks have remained, even after key figures die. Tucker tells me that when he set out to research the Pioneer Fund and its wealthy founder, Wickliffe Draper, in the late 1990s, he “compiled a list of every academic or scientist I could think of who had been outspoken about racial differences and then searched the web or contacted their institution . . . to see if there was an archive of personal papers. In most cases there was. Then I traveled to each of these places, fully expecting that some trips would be a waste of time and research money, because there would not be any Pioneer connection.” He was wrong. “In fact, I never struck out. Every one of these persons had been contacted and usually supported either by Pioneer or by Draper.”
The Pioneer Fund may have since declined, but something important has happened to take its place. The global political landscape has changed, moving away from the center and making space once more for those at the extremes. The election of President Donald Trump, a Republican, has been joined by a rise in nationalist sentiment and far-right parties all over the world. For Hurt, the work he did three decades ago was prescient in relation to today’s political climate, not because Roger Pearson or Ralph Scott were ever particularly important figures in US politics during Reagan’s time, but because they managed to get close access to the government despite their views. Somehow, they both found a way to influence powerful people with their brand of intellectual racism.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the last decade paying attention to the politics of immigration in this country, which are obviously related to all of that in intimate ways, and which dominate our politics in some ways today,” Hurt tells me. He believes what happened in the past can happen again. “When Reagan came in, he didn’t have established party networks of personnel that the establishment figures in the party had. So he cast a very wide net that included a very diverse range of people, including people like Ralph Scott. Scott wasn’t, I think, representative of the sort of central policy thrust of the administration, but there was a lot of carelessness at the beginning of the Reagan administration that allowed these people to step into positions of greater or lesser significance . . . He was symptomatic of a broader problem of entryism to the Republican Party by people like this.”
For those on the far right, it’s a waiting game. As long as they can survive and maintain their networks, it’s only a matter of time before politics swings around and provides an entry point once more. The public assumed that the extremes of scientific racism were dead, when in fact they were always active under the radar, says Hurt. “I think there was a whole sequence of events between the late 1980s and the present in which these ideas, which have become pretty well established in the mainstream of American political culture, were step by step progressing, reestablishing themselves, eroding the norms of the post–civil rights environment.”
What difference does it make to science that a publication such as the Mankind Quarterly exists today? In truth, barely any. Its work is so rarely read or cited by real scientists that its impact factor—the measure used to judge the influence of a journal—hovers between 0 and a little more than 1. By contrast, the impact factor of a highly respected journal such as Nature is more than 40. But then, of course, the Mankind Quarterly was never designed to be read by scientists or shape the future of research. It was always a platform for those looking for intellectual ballast for their political views. What is of concern, then, is what the journal represents. As a publication, it’s a barometer for intellectual racism. Should it or its contributors become popular, then we know that something is wrong. And in the last ten years its impact factor has been on average higher than it was in the preceding decade.
At the same time its editors have built a presence in other more credible scientific journals. Assistant Editor Richard Lynn, for example, today sits on the editorial advisory board of Personality and Individual Differences, published by Elsevier, one of the world’s largest scientific publishers, which counts the highly respected journals The Lancet and Cell among its titles. Among Lynn’s papers was one in 2004, “The Intelligence of American Jews,” in which he argued that “Jews have a higher average level of verbal intelligence than non-Jewish whites.” Gerhard Meisenberg’s work, which looks at the links between intelligence, genetics, and geography, has appeared in Intelligence, a psychology journal also published by Elsevier. He has published at least eight articles in recent years, including one in 2010 on the average IQ of sub-Saharan Africans, and another in 2013 on the relationship between “national intelligence” and economic success. When I check the editorial board members of Intelligence in 2017, I find both Meisenberg and Lynn listed.
Journals are free to publish whatever they think is worthy, subject to peer review. That said, the choice of whom to appoint to an editorial board is important because these members help to shape a journal’s policy and scope. According to Elsevier’s own online guidance, editors “should be appointed from key research institutes.” Neither Lynn nor Meisenberg can claim that honor. A spokesperson for Elsevier, after repeated enquiries, tells me that editorial board members “are not involved in making decisions about which articles will be published. Their role is focused on reflecting the academic debate that takes place within the communities’ domain that the journal serves.” Yet Elsevier’s own website states that editorial board members “review submitted manuscripts” and “attract new authors and submissions.” The other implication of their brief statement is that the work of Lynn and Meisenberg, studying population-level differences in intelligence—which some might reasonably equate with racial differences—must now be a part of mainstream academic debate.
In 2017 when I call the current editor-in-chief of Intelligence, Richard Haier, an emeritus professor at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, to find out how he feels about having editors from the Mankind Quarterly on the editorial board of his own journal, he sounds nervous. “I struggled with this, frankly, when I became editor, and I consulted several people about this,” he says. “I decided that it’s better to deal with these things with sunlight and by inclusion.” Throughout our conversation, he is uneasy, taking long pauses to choose his words. Keeping them inside the fold, he tells me finally, reflects his commitment to academic freedom.
Haier reassures me that he has never met Meisenberg or Lynn. But he tells me he did personally know and defend the late Arthur Jensen, a professor of educational psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1969 Jensen mooted in the Harvard Educational Review that gaps in intelligence test results between black and white students might be because of genetics. It remains one of the most controversial psychology papers ever published. The New York Times reported in 1977 that the Pioneer Fund had been subsidizing Jensen’s work. An investigation published by the Los Angeles Times almost two decades later, in 1994, confirmed that by then these grants to him must have totaled more than a million dollars.
Haier continues, “The area of the relationship between intelligence and group differences is probably the most incendiary area in the whole of psychology. And some of the people who work in that area have said incendiary things. . . . I have read some quotes, indirect quotes, that disturb me, but throwing people off an editorial board for expressing an opinion really kind of puts us in dicey area. I prefer to let the papers and the data speak for themselves.” He adds, however, that he does believe there is something scientifically interesting about studying “group differences” in intelligence. “Scientific intelligence research has labored under this cloud for fifty years, and it is my stated goal as editor to help bring intelligence research back into the mainstream, where it used to be.”
Even so, Haier seems to have been bothered by my questioning. When I check the Elsevier website around a year later, at the end of 2018, both Gerhard Meisenberg and Richard Lynn have been removed from the list of editorial board members of Intelligence.
If group-level or population-level differences in intelligence do need to come out from under the cloud of controversy, then what are the reasons that researchers might want to wade into this deeply divisive area of research? According to Richard Haier, one theme is shared by some of those who submit their work to Intelligence. “I can tell you, and I’m not revealing anything secret here as editor, we receive a number of papers that try to speak to the relationship between intelligence and economic development, and group differences in general.” Sadly, it’s not always of the highest quality, he admits. “When I read many of those papers, they are substandard, and they never even get to peer review. . . . We have had papers submitted that come up with some kind of result, and then the discussion section extrapolates from that result to immigration policy. Those papers never get as far as peer review in our journal because it’s clear that there is an agenda.” These were exactly the kind of extrapolations made by Gerhard Meisenberg in his emails to me.
Haier’s comments betray just how much this field remains plagued by dark politics. I can’t help but recall the nineteenth-century race scientists who jumped to biological explanations for the inequality they saw in the world, who thought other races had been doomed to failure by nature because their brains were too small or their temperaments too weak. Confronted by slavery and colonialism, they skimmed over history and culture, preferring instead to look to biology for justification for this kind of exploitation. When researchers like Meisenberg today link economic development to intelligence, they imply that the vast inequality between the world’s richest and poorest countries is rooted not just in the imbalance of power or historical circumstance, but in the innate weaknesses of the populations themselves.
Racial injustice and inequality, in their minds, isn’t injustice or inequality at all. It’s there because the racial hierarchy is real.
“I think what we’re experiencing now is a much more threatening environment,” says Keith Hurt. “We’re in a much worse situation than we were a couple of decades ago.” He believes that the kind of research once funded by the Pioneer Fund and still published by the Mankind Quarterly has now found fresh avenues of support. Scientific racism has come out of the shadows, at least partly because wider society has made room for it.
“Frankly, I think at this point the ideological stream that it was sustaining is now self-sustaining. There are other institutions, and a much, much broader culture that will sustain it.”
This broader culture that Hurt describes, of people who rail against “political correctness” and call for a greater diversity of political opinion and freedom of speech in academia, has become stronger. In 2018 an investigation by the London Student newspaper revealed that the Mankind Quarterly editors Richard Lynn and Gerhard Meisenberg had been organizing and speaking at a series of small, invitation-only conferences held at University College London since 2014. The Associated Press reported in August 2018 that a University of Arizona psychology professor with an interest in human behavior and evolutionary psychology, and who had also been on the editorial advisory board of the Mankind Quarterly, had used a grant from the Pioneer Fund to attend one of the conferences. Somehow Lynn and Meisenberg had managed to secure a space within the university to discuss controversial issues around eugenics and intelligence, attracting one attendee, writer and commentator Toby Young, who was later appointed to head the UK government’s Office for Students, the regulatory authority for the English higher education sector (he soon withdrew from the position).
Race scientists who had a platform for their views in the 1980s are building a stronger presence once more. In 1994, in The Bell Curve, one of the most notorious bestsellers of the twentieth century, political scientist Charles Murray and psychologist Richard Herrnstein suggested that black Americans were less intelligent than whites and Asians. A review at the time in the New York Review of Books observed that they cited five articles from the Mankind Quarterly, and no fewer than seventeen researchers who had contributed to that journal. Murray and Herrnstein went so far as to describe Richard Lynn as “a leading scholar of racial and ethnic differences.” Although The Bell Curve was widely panned after it was published—an article in American Behavioral Scientist described it as “fascist ideology”—in 2017 Scientific American magazine noted that Charles Murray was enjoying “an unfortunate resurgence.” Facing down protestors, he was being invited to give lectures on college campuses across the United States.
Another contributor to the Mankind Quarterly has become a key figure in the white supremacist movement. Yale-educated Jared Taylor, who belongs to a number of right-wing groups and think tanks, founded the magazine American Renaissance in 1990. William Tucker calls the magazine the true intellectual arm of the modern neo-Nazi movement. For example, Taylor uses a concept to defend racial segregation that he borrowed from the zoologist Raymond Hall, writing in the first ever issue of the Mankind Quarterly: “Two subspecies of the same species do not occur in the same geographic area.” His brand of white supremacy draws from race science to lend itself the illusion of intellectual backbone. He is in some ways the Wickliffe Draper of the twenty-first century.
Like Draper, Taylor has sought to make racism respectable again. Robert Wald Sussman has described his American Renaissance Foundation conferences as “a gathering place for white supremacists, white nationalists, white separatists, neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, Holocaust deniers, and eugenicists.” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education has more succinctly dubbed them “a convocation of bigots.” The conferences have featured other intellectuals who have written for or edited the Mankind Quarterly. A visitor at the 1994 meeting reported that people didn’t “flinch from using terms such as ‘nigger’ and ‘chink.’” Male attendees are expected to dress in smart business suits, to set themselves apart from the thuggish image most people associate with racists. They don’t call themselves racists. They call themselves “race realists,” a euphemism that reflects how they like to believe the scientific facts are on their side.
By the time of the 2016 US presidential election, Jared Taylor’s place in American politics was firmer than ever. He even appeared in a television ad released by Hilary Clinton’s campaign team to show the kind of support that her rival Donald Trump’s anti-immigration policies had among white nationalists. Explaining the rising prominence of people such as Taylor during the campaign, one correspondent reflected in Newsweek magazine in 2017: “These men have degrees from some of the nation’s top universities. . . . They are a well-read group who cloak their ideas about the intrinsic superiority of white men in selected passages of literature, history, philosophy and science.”
One regular speaker at American Renaissance Foundation conferences who is also a Mankind Quarterly contributor is Michael Levin, a professor of philosophy at the City University of New York, which describes itself as a large, relatively affordable urban university that is committed to being accessible to underrepresented minorities. He is the author of Why Race Matters, a book that went out of print after its initial publication in 1997, but was reissued in 2016 with a new cover and a foreword by Jared Taylor. In 1986 Levin had written a letter to the New York Times arguing that it was legitimate for store owners to discriminate against all black people because they were more likely to be attacked by someone who was black. According to the Southern Policy Law Center, Levin told the audience at a 1998 American Renaissance Foundation meeting, “The two principal race differences that I see are race differences in intelligence and in motivation. . . . It’s no wonder there are very few black scientists. . . . You have to have an IQ of 130 to be a successful research scientist.” According to an article in the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education in 1994, Levin had by then received more than $120,000 in grants from the Pioneer Fund.
“People like that are able to get funding,” Keith Hurt tells me. “There will always be, unfortunately, men of wealth—and they are almost all men of wealth—who share these ideas and are willing to support them.” But another reason that scientific racists have more influence now is that the internet and social media have given them simpler ways to access and grow their networks. “Behind every racist joke is a scientific fact,” the alt-right blogger Milo Yiannopoulos told a Bloomberg reporter in 2016. Among the cabal of online race realists and their followers it’s easy to spot an attitude of doggedness. They repeatedly insist that they are challenging the politically correct wider world by standing up for good science and that those who oppose them are irrational science deniers.
Gerhard Meisenberg, for example, writes to me in our correspondence that “some academics seem to believe that by simply claiming that race differences don’t exist, we can prevent people from believing in them. Doesn’t work like that. . . . For example, if we tell people that black children are as smart as white children and it isn’t true, there will be teachers and others who know first-hand that it isn’t true. Also, if we tell people that it’s because of some flaws in the school system and the flaws are repaired and it doesn’t help one bit, not only do people get frustrated about all the wasted effort, but they also start distrusting the ‘scientists’ who are telling them lies. Real people aren’t postmodernists. They distinguish between truth and lies.” Meisenberg’s tactic is simple: he uses people’s gut prejudices and casual stereotypes to undermine trust in mainstream science. If you feel it to be true, it must be.
This rhetoric around who has the genuine claim on the truth resonates today more than ever when the public on both sides of the political divide worry about fake news and media conspiracies. Yet it’s a line that has been adopted by intellectual racists for decades. In 1998 an American corporate lawyer, Harry Weyher, president of the Pioneer Fund from 1958 until he died in 2002, was given space to write an eighteen-page editorial for the journal Intelligence. He used the opportunity to defend research supportedby the fund. “This is critical research by world-class scholars. . . . Yet, if one were to believe some important segments of the media, this research was funded by an evil foundation and done by evil scientists, and is unfit for public dissemination.”
Twenty years before Donald Trump was elected, Weyher, too, laid into what he saw as an egalitarian orthodoxy and political correctness, going so far as to accuse the print and broadcast media of “false reporting.”
“Why do we still have race science given everything that happened in the twentieth century?” I’m asked by Jonathan Marks, an anthropologist who is the academic many turn to for clarity when it comes to racism in science.
His answer is unequivocal: “Because it is an important political issue. And there are powerful forces on the right that fund research into studying human differences with the goal of establishing those differences as a basis of inequalities.” Ultimately, politics is always a feature of the science, just as it was in the very beginning. Once there was the backdrop of slavery and colonialism, then it was immigration and segregation, and now it is the right-wing agenda of this age. Nativism remains an issue, but there is also a backlash against greater efforts to promote racial equality in multicultural societies. And just like before, the message of those with racist intentions is tailored gently, carefully sculpted to appeal to populist fears while at the same time sounding logical and reasonable.
For example, when communicating with me, Gerhard Meisenberg uses the word “culture” alongside the word “race,” as though they’re fully interchangeable. He fully grasps that most people these days value and respect cultural boundaries, even if they don’t recognize biological race—so he seeks to conflate race and culture.
“Without much selectivity in migration, all countries of the world become homogenized, not only in ability level but also in culture and everything else. Countries become more similar to each other,” writes Meisenberg. How tragic it would be to have the whole world look exactly the same. On a logical level he fails to explain how, if races are fixed and immutable in the way he thinks they are, we could all end up the same just by migrating. But this isn’t the point. On the surface, heard quickly, his concerns sound almost sensible, in the same way that eugenics sounded so logical and attractive to progressive liberals in the early twentieth century. Who back then could argue against thepursuit of a healthier, stronger population? Who today could argue against countries and groups maintaining their distinct cultures?
Race has always been an intrinsically political area of research, the idea itself born out of a certain world order. So it’s small surprise that those doing this kind of research end up in the same place again and again, as they have for centuries. When they look for human variation, however objective they claim to be, they can’t help but ask what the differences they think they see mean for society. This is why race science so often comes twinned with speculation on economic and social differences.
A common theme among today’s race realists is their belief that, because racial differences exist, diversity and equal opportunity programs—designed to make society fairer—are doomed to fail. “As far as I understand, race-based policies of this kind were adopted by many American institutions since the 1960s or 70s, and were originally justified as something that is needed to make up for disadvantages that Blacks and some other minorities had suffered in the era before civil rights legislation,” Meisenberg explains. “Today, 50 years later, that old reasoning is no longer credible.” Rather than investing in these policies, he appears to be arguing that we should accept inequality as a biological fact. If an equal world isn’t being forged fast enough, the race realists don’t see it as a longer or tougher path than we imagined and so we should redouble our efforts. Instead, it is a permanent natural roadblock created by the fact that, deep down, we’re not the same.
“We have two nested fallacies here,” says Marks. The first is that the human species comes packaged up in a small number of discrete races, each with its own different traits. “Second is the idea that there are innate explanations for political and economic inequality. And basically what you’re doing there is saying that inequality exists, but it doesn’t represent historical injustice. What these guys are trying to do is manipulate science to construct imaginary boundaries to social progress.”
For Marks, the prescription to cure this pathology is radical. Banning any kind of scientific research—if it can get funded and ethically approved—is a risk to academic freedom. He suggests instead that people who “cannot handle the results shouldn’t be studying it. . . . We don’t want racists working on human variation because that doesn’t work. So it’s not a question of ‘should this be studied?’; it’s a question of who should be studying it and how should they be credentialed, or how should they be vetted.” His argument is that if this is a field that is always going to be affected by the politics of the scientists, then surely it makes sense to have people doing the research whoaren’t bent on division and destruction, whose aims don’t lie at odds with what society as a whole has decided is morally acceptable.
To others, this sounds heavy handed. For example, William Tucker, the psychologist whose painstaking work helped expose the Pioneer Fund and the scientists it has backed, supports the freedom of anyone to do any research—even the kind he abhors. “People enjoy the right to take Pioneer’s money; I would not like to see them deprived of that right. At the same time, I think that their decision to do so is awful and will do whatever is in my power to persuade them of the folly of such a course,” he tells me.
Fundamentally, though, the problem is not the science itself. If it were limited to academia, the kind of material that’s published in the Mankind Quarterly and other like-minded publications would have next to no impact at all because mainstream scientists almost entirely ignore it. It just doesn’t have enough scientific value. As for the ideology, most researchers today accept that what little we know about human variation can’t be used to dictate how we treat people in the real world. It certainly can’t be used to set policy. The problem is in how these ideas are used and abused in the wider society, how much traction they can get with the public and those in power. Nazi scientists carrying out their regime’s program of “racial hygiene” had only a rickety scientific scaffolding upon which they wreaked enormous destruction on millions of people. The same was true of those who defended slavery, colonialism, and segregation. And it applies today, too, to those on the political extremes. Nothing is more seductive that a nice string of data, a single bell curve, or a seemingly peer-reviewed scientific study. After all, it can’t be racist if it is a “fact.”
For those with a political ideology to sell, the science (such as it is) becomes a prop. The data itself doesn’t matter so much as how it can be spun. Marks warns me that those to really watch out for are the ones who claim to be uniquely free of bias, who tell you they have a special, impartial claim on the truth. “Whenever anybody tells you ‘I am objective, I am apolitical,’ that is the time to watch your wallet, because you’re about to have your pocket picked.”
And he should know, because he almost had his pocket picked.