Weird Science from National Review

By Michael Feldman

October 14, 2008

Will Obama Kill Science? When I saw that headline in National Review Online (NRO), I thought it might be a good opportunity to read a fresh perspective of the Dems approach to science policy. Boy, was I wrong. Instead what I got was a paranoid rant from John Derbyshire on how a “Marxist” Obama administration would shut down “human-sciences” research.

National Review is an icon of conservative journalism, and while that flavor of politics is not for me, I occasionally read the publication to see how the other half thinks. For the past few years, though, NRO has become a place where intelligent discussions go to die. I’ve got to believe that the anti-intellectual tenor of the pub would probably not have pleased its founder, William F. Buckley Jr., who died in February. Unfortunately, this is where mainstream conservatism finds itself today.

But when I saw Derbyshire’s piece that purports to ask how genomic research in the U.S. is being inhibited by public policy, I thought he might shed some light on a serious topic. The thrust of the article is that the political Left is holding back research in this area — especially research that might uncover genetic differences in races or ethnic groups. The premise is that left-thinkers are too squeamish to entertain the idea that genetics influences cognitive and personality characteristics, since that might lead to politically incorrect conclusions about the equality of races. Says Derbyshire:

Name any universal characteristic of human nature, including cognitive and personality characteristics. Of all the observed variation in that characteristic, about half is caused by genetic differences. You may say that is only a half victory; but it is a complete shattering of the nurturist absolutism that ruled in the human sciences 40 years ago, and that is still the approved dogma in polite society, including polite political society, today.

Derbyshire has an axe to grind here and has written on this topic before. He seems quite sympathetic to the idea of racial superiority based on genetic characteristics, and has admitted on at least one occasion to being a homophobe and a racist (although, he claims, a mild one — whatever that means). Furthermore, he thinks Obama is a cultural Marxist — and brings up the ridiculous Ayers connection to prove his point. As a result, he says, that would make an Obama administration particularly unfriendly to any research that challenged an egalitarian view of the human race.

As evidence of the hostile climate this type of research is operating under, Derbyshire points to some anecdotal experiences of genetic researchers and policy-makers who are running into government obstacles. One blogger he quotes is someone named Godless Capitalist, who says:

The fact is that it is incredibly difficult even today to do this research. Genomics has been an area of “regulatory oversight” in that the Hapmap and related high throughput SNP.

There are a bunch of problems with Derbyshire’s analysis. First is the assumption that the Left controls the science research community in the government. This seems far-fetched. The Republicans have been in power in all three branches of the federal government for six of the last eight years. And the Democratic Congress that took over in 2006 could hardly be described as Marxists. Obama certainly is not. In fact, only about 20 percent of Democrats would even describe themselves as liberal. Derbyshire would do well to remember that the last and only time the U.S. was run by left-leaning radicals was 1776.

More to the point, most of the current leadership at federal agencies was put in place by Bush appointments. If genetic research is being chilled, it is more likely the result of Bush and this anti-science crusade, not free-wheeling Marxists.

The most revealing part of the article comes when Derbyshire includes a post from a recent thread on genetic research. I’ll reproduce it here for full effect:

[Sarah] Palin is the most libertarian candidate to run since the Reagan administration … we’re fighting to hold territory, not to take it. We just need to hold off the left till genomics can come through. We’re going to be knocking off sacred cow after sacred cow in the next decade or so …

The Democrats do not want the genetic discoveries to lead to widespread knowledge about the truth about human differences. The Democrats are really more anti-Darwinian than the fundamentalist Christians who deny the origin of species …

We need to step very carefully as we are going up against the official state religion, namely PC. Until we reach critical mass we’ll be convicted in the media and go straight to the gulag rather than be afforded the benefit of a Scopes trial. Just think of how many fedguv bureaucrats and NGOs owe their livelihoods to the axiom of equality. An Obama administration will passionately go after the heretics.

The Left’s restraints on science do not get publicized. Where’s the big research for IQ genes? Where’s the funding for that? Where’s the big research program for psychometrics? The Left strangled that very thoroughly.

First, let’s parse that second paragraph that juxtaposes Democrats with fundamentalist Christians. Putting aside the fact the poster is probably assigning Democrats to the wrong role, the statement still makes no sense. What he or she seems to be saying is it’s worse to question one aspect of heredity than to deny the whole concept of evolution.

Casting Sarah (‘you betcha’) Palin as the second coming of Charles Darwin is particularly amusing, but I think it reflects Derbyshire’s own problem (besides being a racist, that is): He doesn’t seem to know his Right from his Left. For a guy who has a background in mathematics and computer science, you would think he would bring some of that intellectual discipline into his writing.

And if Derbyshire is under the impression that a McCain-Palin administration would be a genetic researcher’s dream ticket, he should probably listen more closely to what the candidates are saying.

Neither party’s candidate is talking much about science policy these days, given the end of the global financial system and all. But during Tuesday’s presidential debate, McCain did float the idea of an across-the-board federal spending freeze for non-defense and discretionary spending. That would effectively kill any new federally-funded R&D — genetics or otherwise. Even in the absence of such a freeze, John (‘no earmarks’) McCain would probably be voted least likely to give a pass to research on say “IQ Genes” were it to show up on an appropriations bill.

And what about comrade Obama? The federal budget problems he will inherit are probably going to constrain any big ramp up in science and research spending, so the search for IQ genes isn’t likely to be at the top of his agenda either. But unlike people such as Derbyshire, Obama has little to prove about the superiority of one race over another.

Of course, the whole hypothesis of linking multi-dimensional attributes like cognitive ability and personality to specific racial pools is questionable. While Derbyshire obviously thinks this is a slam dunk, the conventional wisdom out there doesn’t. Many geneticists even dispute the entire concept of distinct human races. But that shouldn’t prevent scientists from doing the research to uncover the truth. As always, it will be up to society to decide what to do with the information.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Intel Debuts New GPU – Ponte Vecchio – and Outlines Aspirations for oneAPI

November 17, 2019

Intel today revealed a few more details about its forthcoming Xe line of GPUs – the top SKU is named Ponte Vecchio and will be used in Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale computer. Intel also provided a glimpse of Read more…

By John Russell

SC19: Welcome to Denver

November 17, 2019

A significant swath of the HPC community has come to Denver for SC19, which began today (Sunday) with a rich technical program. As is customary, the ribbon cutting for the Expo Hall opening is Monday at 6:45pm, with the Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC19’s HPC Impact Showcase Chair: AI + HPC a ‘Speed Train’

November 16, 2019

This year’s chair of the HPC Impact Showcase at the SC19 conference in Denver is Lori Diachin, who has spent her career at the spearhead of HPC. Currently deputy director for the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft Azure Adds Graphcore’s IPU

November 15, 2019

Graphcore, the U.K. AI chip developer, is expanding collaboration with Microsoft to offer its intelligent processing units on the Azure cloud, making Microsoft the first large public cloud vendor to offer the IPU designe Read more…

By George Leopold

At SC19: What Is UrgentHPC and Why Is It Needed?

November 14, 2019

The UrgentHPC workshop, taking place Sunday (Nov. 17) at SC19, is focused on using HPC and real-time data for urgent decision making in response to disasters such as wildfires, flooding, health emergencies, and accidents. We chat with organizer Nick Brown, research fellow at EPCC, University of Edinburgh, to learn more. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AWS Solution Channel

Making High Performance Computing Affordable and Accessible for Small and Medium Businesses with HPC on AWS

High performance computing (HPC) brings a powerful set of tools to a broad range of industries, helping to drive innovation and boost revenue in finance, genomics, oil and gas extraction, and other fields. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Data Management – The Key to a Successful AI Project

 

Five characteristics of an awesome AI data infrastructure

[Attend the IBM LSF & HPC User Group Meeting at SC19 in Denver on November 19!]

AI is powered by data

While neural networks seem to get all the glory, data is the unsung hero of AI projects – data lies at the heart of everything from model training to tuning to selection to validation. Read more…

China’s Tencent Server Design Will Use AMD Rome

November 13, 2019

Tencent, the Chinese cloud giant, said it would use AMD’s newest Epyc processor in its internally-designed server. The design win adds further momentum to AMD’s bid to erode rival Intel Corp.’s dominance of the glo Read more…

By George Leopold

Intel Debuts New GPU – Ponte Vecchio – and Outlines Aspirations for oneAPI

November 17, 2019

Intel today revealed a few more details about its forthcoming Xe line of GPUs – the top SKU is named Ponte Vecchio and will be used in Aurora, the first plann Read more…

By John Russell

SC19: Welcome to Denver

November 17, 2019

A significant swath of the HPC community has come to Denver for SC19, which began today (Sunday) with a rich technical program. As is customary, the ribbon cutt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC19’s HPC Impact Showcase Chair: AI + HPC a ‘Speed Train’

November 16, 2019

This year’s chair of the HPC Impact Showcase at the SC19 conference in Denver is Lori Diachin, who has spent her career at the spearhead of HPC. Currently Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing compon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel AI Summit: New ‘Keem Bay’ Edge VPU, AI Product Roadmap

November 12, 2019

At its AI Summit today in San Francisco, Intel touted a raft of AI training and inference hardware for deployments ranging from cloud to edge and designed to support organizations at various points of their AI journeys. The company revealed its Movidius Myriad Vision Processing Unit (VPU)... Read more…

By Doug Black

IBM Adds Support for Ion Trap Quantum Technology to Qiskit

November 11, 2019

After years of percolating in the shadow of quantum computing research based on superconducting semiconductors – think IBM, Rigetti, Google, and D-Wave (quant Read more…

By John Russell

Tackling HPC’s Memory and I/O Bottlenecks with On-Node, Non-Volatile RAM

November 8, 2019

On-node, non-volatile memory (NVRAM) is a game-changing technology that can remove many I/O and memory bottlenecks and provide a key enabler for exascale. That’s the conclusion drawn by the scientists and researchers of Europe’s NEXTGenIO project, an initiative funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program to explore this new... Read more…

By Jan Rowell

MLPerf Releases First Inference Benchmark Results; Nvidia Touts its Showing

November 6, 2019

MLPerf.org, the young AI-benchmarking consortium, today issued the first round of results for its inference test suite. Among organizations with submissions wer Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Using AI to Solve One of the Most Prevailing Problems in CFD

October 17, 2019

How can artificial intelligence (AI) and high-performance computing (HPC) solve mesh generation, one of the most commonly referenced problems in computational engineering? A new study has set out to answer this question and create an industry-first AI-mesh application... Read more…

By James Sharpe

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Looks to Propel Parallelism

September 4, 2019

As Moore’s law runs out of steam, new programming approaches are being pursued with the goal of greater hardware performance with less coding. The Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency is launching a new programming effort aimed at leveraging the benefits of massive distributed parallelism with less sweat. Read more…

By George Leopold

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

D-Wave’s Path to 5000 Qubits; Google’s Quantum Supremacy Claim

September 24, 2019

On the heels of IBM’s quantum news last week come two more quantum items. D-Wave Systems today announced the name of its forthcoming 5000-qubit system, Advantage (yes the name choice isn’t serendipity), at its user conference being held this week in Newport, RI. Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Crystal Ball Gazing: IBM’s Vision for the Future of Computing

October 14, 2019

Dario Gil, IBM’s relatively new director of research, painted a intriguing portrait of the future of computing along with a rough idea of how IBM thinks we’ Read more…

By John Russell

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Intel Confirms Retreat on Omni-Path

August 1, 2019

Intel Corp.’s plans to make a big splash in the network fabric market for linking HPC and other workloads has apparently belly-flopped. The chipmaker confirmed to us the outlines of an earlier report by the website CRN that it has jettisoned plans for a second-generation version of its Omni-Path interconnect... Read more…

By Staff report

Kubernetes, Containers and HPC

September 19, 2019

Software containers and Kubernetes are important tools for building, deploying, running and managing modern enterprise applications at scale and delivering enterprise software faster and more reliably to the end user — while using resources more efficiently and reducing costs. Read more…

By Daniel Gruber, Burak Yenier and Wolfgang Gentzsch, UberCloud

Dell Ramps Up HPC Testing of AMD Rome Processors

October 21, 2019

Dell Technologies is wading deeper into the AMD-based systems market with a growing evaluation program for the latest Epyc (Rome) microprocessors from AMD. In a Read more…

By John Russell

Rise of NIH’s Biowulf Mirrors the Rise of Computational Biology

July 29, 2019

The story of NIH’s supercomputer Biowulf is fascinating, important, and in many ways representative of the transformation of life sciences and biomedical res Read more…

By John Russell

Xilinx vs. Intel: FPGA Market Leaders Launch Server Accelerator Cards

August 6, 2019

The two FPGA market leaders, Intel and Xilinx, both announced new accelerator cards this week designed to handle specialized, compute-intensive workloads and un Read more…

By Doug Black

When Dense Matrix Representations Beat Sparse

September 9, 2019

In our world filled with unintended consequences, it turns out that saving memory space to help deal with GPU limitations, knowing it introduces performance pen Read more…

By James Reinders

With the Help of HPC, Astronomers Prepare to Deflect a Real Asteroid

September 26, 2019

For years, NASA has been running simulations of asteroid impacts to understand the risks (and likelihoods) of asteroids colliding with Earth. Now, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are preparing for the next, crucial step in planetary defense against asteroid impacts: physically deflecting a real asteroid. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray, Fujitsu Both Bringing Fujitsu A64FX-based Supercomputers to Market in 2020

November 12, 2019

The number of top-tier HPC systems makers has shrunk due to a steady march of M&A activity, but there is increased diversity and choice of processing compon Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This