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!

Supercomputer Research Reveals Star Cluster Born Outside Our Galaxy

July 11, 2020

The Milky Way is our galactic home, containing our solar system and continuing into a giant band of densely packed stars that stretches across clear night skies around the world – but, it turns out, not all of those st Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprised of Intel Xeon processors and Nvidia A100 GPUs, and featuri Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Xilinx Announces First Adaptive Computing Challenge

July 9, 2020

A new contest is challenging the computing world. Xilinx has announced the first Xilinx Adaptive Computing Challenge, a competition that will task developers and startups with finding creative workload acceleration solutions. Xilinx is running the Adaptive Computing Challenge in partnership with Hackster.io, a developing community... Read more…

By Staff report

Reviving Moore’s Law? LBNL Researchers See Promise in Heterostructure Oxides

July 9, 2020

The reality of Moore’s law’s decline is no longer doubted for good empirical reasons. That said, never say never. Recent work by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers suggests heterostructure oxides may b Read more…

By John Russell

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: 1) Industries of the Future (IotF), chaired be Dario Gil (d Read more…

By John Russell

AWS Solution Channel

Best Practices for Running Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) Workloads on AWS

The scalable nature and variable demand of CFD workloads makes them well-suited for a cloud computing environment. Many of the AWS instance types, such as the compute family instance types, are designed to include support for this type of workload.  Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Supercomputing the Pandemic: Scientific Community Tackles COVID-19 from Multiple Perspectives

Since their inception, supercomputers have taken on the biggest, most complex, and most data-intensive computing challenges—from confirming Einstein’s theories about gravitational waves to predicting the impacts of climate change. Read more…

Penguin Computing Brings Cascade Lake-AP to OCP Form Factor

July 7, 2020

Penguin Computing, a subsidiary of SMART Global Holdings, Inc., announced yesterday (July 6) a new Tundra server, Tundra AP, that is the first to implement the Intel Xeon Scalable 9200 series processors (codenamed Cascad Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Max Planck Society Begins Installation of Liquid-Cooled Supercomputer from Lenovo

July 9, 2020

Lenovo announced today that it is supplying a new high performance computer to the Max Planck Society, one of Germany's premier research organizations. Comprise Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

President’s Council Targets AI, Quantum, STEM; Recommends Spending Growth

July 9, 2020

Last week the President Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) met (webinar) to review policy recommendations around three sub-committee reports: Read more…

By John Russell

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Q&A: HLRS’s Bastian Koller Tackles HPC and Industry in Germany and Europe

July 6, 2020

In this exclusive interview for HPCwire – sadly not face to face – Steve Conway, senior advisor for Hyperion Research, talks with Dr.-Ing Bastian Koller about the state of HPC and its collaboration with Industry in Europe. Koller is a familiar figure in HPC. He is the managing director at High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) and also serves... Read more…

By Steve Conway, Hyperion

OpenPOWER Reboot – New Director, New Silicon Partners, Leveraging Linux Foundation Connections

July 2, 2020

Earlier this week the OpenPOWER Foundation announced the contribution of IBM’s A21 Power processor core design to the open source community. Roughly this time Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion Forecast – Headwinds in 2020 Won’t Stifle Cloud HPC Adoption or Arm’s Rise

June 30, 2020

The semiannual taking of HPC’s pulse by Hyperion Research – late fall at SC and early summer at ISC – is a much-watched indicator of things come. This yea Read more…

By John Russell

Racism and HPC: a Special Podcast

June 29, 2020

Promoting greater diversity in HPC is a much-discussed goal and ostensibly a long-sought goal in HPC. Yet it seems clear HPC is far from achieving this goal. Re Read more…

Top500 Trends: Movement on Top, but Record Low Turnover

June 25, 2020

The 55th installment of the Top500 list saw strong activity in the leadership segment with four new systems in the top ten and a crowning achievement from the f Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Turns Its Massive Crowdsourced Computer Network Against COVID-19

March 16, 2020

For gamers, fighting against a global crisis is usually pure fantasy – but now, it’s looking more like a reality. As supercomputers around the world spin up Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

[email protected] Rallies a Legion of Computers Against the Coronavirus

March 24, 2020

Last week, we highlighted [email protected], a massive, crowdsourced computer network that has turned its resources against the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe – but [email protected] isn’t the only game in town. The internet is buzzing with crowdsourced computing... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

DoE Expands on Role of COVID-19 Supercomputing Consortium

March 25, 2020

After announcing the launch of the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium on Sunday, the Department of Energy yesterday provided more details on its sco Read more…

By John Russell

Honeywell’s Big Bet on Trapped Ion Quantum Computing

April 7, 2020

Honeywell doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of quantum computing pioneers, but a decade ago the high-tech conglomerate better known for its control systems waded deliberately into the then calmer quantum computing (QC) waters. Fast forward to March when Honeywell announced plans to introduce an ion trap-based quantum computer whose ‘performance’ would... Read more…

By John Russell

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Global Supercomputing Is Mobilizing Against COVID-19

March 12, 2020

Tech has been taking some heavy losses from the coronavirus pandemic. Global supply chains have been disrupted, virtually every major tech conference taking place over the next few months has been canceled... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU: Up to 2.5X the HPC, 20X the AI

May 14, 2020

Nvidia's first Ampere-based graphics card, the A100 GPU, packs a whopping 54 billion transistors on 826mm2 of silicon, making it the world's largest seven-nanom Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

‘Billion Molecules Against COVID-19’ Challenge to Launch with Massive Supercomputing Support

April 22, 2020

Around the world, supercomputing centers have spun up and opened their doors for COVID-19 research in what may be the most unified supercomputing effort in hist Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

15 Slides on Programming Aurora and Exascale Systems

May 7, 2020

Sometime in 2021, Aurora, the first planned U.S. exascale system, is scheduled to be fired up at Argonne National Laboratory. Cray (now HPE) and Intel are the k Read more…

By John Russell

Summit Supercomputer is Already Making its Mark on Science

September 20, 2018

Summit, now the fastest supercomputer in the world, is quickly making its mark in science – five of the six finalists just announced for the prestigious 2018 Read more…

By John Russell

TACC Supercomputers Run Simulations Illuminating COVID-19, DNA Replication

March 19, 2020

As supercomputers around the world spin up to combat the coronavirus, the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is announcing results that may help to illumina Read more…

By Staff report

$100B Plan Submitted for Massive Remake and Expansion of NSF

May 27, 2020

Legislation to reshape, expand - and rename - the National Science Foundation has been submitted in both the U.S. House and Senate. The proposal, which seems to Read more…

By John Russell

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