Benefit of the Doubt and Our “American” Blog Policy

You all know the reason I blog.  I blog for the comments. I blog for people who can set me straight, tell me where I’m wrong, encourage me when I’m right, introduce me to new ideas and ways of thinking, etc.  bigWOWO is almost two years old, and as far as I can remember, we’ve never deleted or moderated any comments.  I hope that tradition continues.  And yet we’ve grown big enough–and diverse enough–that we finally have to have a comment policy.  People have been complaining in the past few days about certain trends on this blog, and I wanted to step in and say something before it becomes a problem.

So here’s the new rule–any obtrusive and unsubstantiated beliefs need to stay in topic-specific blog posts about those obtrusive and unsubstantiated beliefs.  I’m saying this specifically because of HBD, so-called Human Biodiversity, aka modern day racism, but it applies to other obtrusive and unsubstantiated comments on other topics too.  If you want to promote HBD, please keep them in the blog posts that focus specifically on HBD (1 and 2).  This policy also applies to other outlandish and unproven beliefs, such as Falun Gong and fundamentalist Islam/Christianity.  This includes not just the text in your comments but also links to other blogs that might be making obtrusive and unsubstantiated comments.

We have a classic Tragedy of the Commons dilemma. WOWO is a public space for intellectuals to communicate and bond, and as such, we need to maintain a culture that promotes our mission–Asian American intellectualism and activism. We’ve always welcomed diversity–although we’re an Asian American blog, we have commenters of all races, genders, and political backgrounds.  We need to maintain a culture where people of all races, genders, and political backgrounds can feel free to open up and share.  We can’t allow others to assail our readership with obtrusive and unsubstantiated statements.  We need to protect this public space.

Now what is the definition of “obtrusive and unsubstantiated?”

Obtrusive” describes a statement that attacks or makes a statement about another commenter or another commenter’s heritage or family.  Let’s take HBD as an example: if AOR says that “blacks on average are not as smart as whites,” it’s obtrusive to African Americans and people with African American friends/family, even if it’s not directed at a specific African American.

Unsubstantiated” describes a statement that can’t be substantiated.  An example of this would be the same statement that blacks on average are not as smart as whites.  In the AOR podcast, for example, AOR tried to back up his statement that blacks on average are less intelligent by claiming that the poorest Whites outscore the richest blacks on the SATs.  We later found out via a link that he himself provided that this was inaccurate (although second tier lower class whites did outscore the richest blacks).  AOR also claimed that blacks are genetically unable to close the IQ gap, although within the same podcast he himself said that the IQ test racially disparity did in fact shrink after civil rights.  He admitted that there was no conclusive proof, but he said that scientists in China were working on it.  Until these scientists find proof then, we have to consider such statements unsubstantiated.

In order for a comment to be deemed unfit for standard commentary, a comment has to meet both criteria–obtrusive AND unsubstantiated.  One or the other is okay; both is not.

So you can make an unsubstantiated comment.  An example of this would be a person sharing his un-provable Christianity by saying, “This is what I believe and how I live” and doesn’t go trying to convert people with threats of fire and brimstone.  Such comments are unobtrusive and are therefore allowed anywhere.  It’s perfectly fine when Kobu, for example, shares his beliefs.

You can make an obtrusive but substantiated comment too, by saying, for example, that you think Asian guys are less aggressive with women than White guys and then telling a personal anecdote.  Urb4n is a master of this when he criticizes Asian men, and he’s usually good by stating that it’s his observation, not a genetic fact.  Empathy also goes a long way in justifying obtrusive comments.

But if your comment is both obtrusive and unsubstantiated, please either keep it in the Falun Gong thread or either or the two HBD threads or any other topic-specific thread.

One last note regarding symmetry–AOR brought up an EXCELLENT point in one of the HBD threads.  He said that while there is no proof of HBD, there is also no proof of equality.  I responded that even though the trends pointed towards equality, AOR was technically right–we haven’t proven equality.  I then said that the burden of proof, however, was on him to prove the inferiority of a race if he were to describe that inferiority as a fact.  He called BS on me:

Your sanctimonious harping on “burden of proof” is nonsensical and illogical. Why can’t you apply the same burden of proof to sociologists and writers who operate on the equality assumption? Please. If you want to play double standards, then OK.

Of course “assumption” is not the same as “assertion.”  These equality writers assume equality rather than assert it, which is not something that HBD proponents do.

Still, he makes a good point.  “Burden of proof” is a valid concept, but it’s a concept that is cultural.  In America, for example, one is innocent until proven guilty.  The burden of proof is on the accuser, not the accused.  Such may not be the case in other countries, such as Malaysia, where a Chinese guy under investigation may have to prove his innocence or face trouble.  In America, when one imposes one’s beliefs on another person, the burden of proof falls on the imposer, not the imposed.  That’s not the case if you’re living under the rule of the Taliban, but here in America, our society accepts that the burden of proof rests on the one making the motion.

Since this is an activism blog, we’re already against negative thinking–and HBD, with it’s focus on how dumb one race is, how immoral another is, how beta another is, and how certain countries have genetic limitations on how far they can go–is a negative belief system.  It’s all about “limitations.”  But more to the point, we’re also an American blog, and therefore we retain the American way (and Buddhist way, since we’ve got lots of Buddhists) that gives people the benefit of the doubt and places the burden of proof on the accuser and categorizer, rather than the accused or the object of categorization.  This would be true of the HBD proponent who believes that blacks are inferior, the same way it would apply to the evangelist who preaches that non-believers are going to Hell.

So that’s the new comment policy.  Obtrusive and unsubstantiated views must remain in their topic-specific threads, and when two unsubstantiated views clash, the burden of proof is on the accuser and categorizer, not the accused or the categorized.

Thank you all for understanding and working with this new policy.  If you have any questions or comments about this policy, sound off below like a WOWO.

11 thoughts on “Benefit of the Doubt and Our “American” Blog Policy

  1. I think there’s a greater tendency to post off-topic comments in a blog than in a forum. You might consider creating an index of some kind so posters can more easily find the appropriate topics, organized by topic, keywords, or some other method.

  2. That’s not what most people would call a correct interpretation of American culture, but you have your opinion and I have mine. My view would be that in absence of any evidence for group differences or group sameness then the American way would be ignore groups altogether and focus on the individual instead. I have my own thoughts on government policies regarding group differences, but that’s just me, and a lot of people don’t agree with me.

    As for the difference between “assumption” and “assertion”, you can play semantic games all day, I don’t really care, I would use the two words interchangeably. Read any sociology paper that gets published these days and you’ll see what I mean. Here is an example. You can find many more written on the race issue as well which also make the same dogmatic assertions/assumptions/what-have-you. And these are published!

    http://www.soc.washington.edu/users/burstein/Burstein_Jewish_Success_SP07.pdf

    “There are three major reputable social-scientific explanations of why Jews do so well. (I emphasize ‘reputable’ and ‘social-scientific’ to exclude genetic explanations and those proposed by anti-Semites.)”

    Really, I don’t want to argue HBD with you anymore, it’s getting kind of tiring and it’s not the purpose of your blog. I’ll respect your comment policies.

    I try not to frame my world view in terms of positivism or negativism . I vow to acknowledge the truth, whatever that truth may be.

    There are a lot of things in this world that are “obtrusive” and a lot of them are true.

    Let’s take HBD as an example: if AOR says that “blacks on average are not as smart as whites,” it’s obtrusive to African Americans and people with African American friends/family, even if it’s not directed at a specific African American.

    That’s the problem here. If people lived the American way, the way that emphasizes the individual, then there should be no problem with that statement. Fuck groups. But it’s offensive because people think of themselves as part of a group, and the need to validate the equality/sameness/superiority of the group that you belong to is so strong that people can’t help but feel offended by it. This is the paradox of individualism. It’s hard to resolve and a fundamental intellectual topic that I must ponder over.

  3. Eric,

    There’s a “Categories” drop down menu on the right side if people scroll down. There’s also a search box. I know it’s not all that accessible, but my WP skills aren’t such that I can put it in a more obvious place. 🙂

  4. AOR,

    Thanks for understanding and respecting the policy. I agree that our HBD discussions should take a rest. I hope you’ll engage in some of the other non-HBD topics. So let’s get away from HBD and talk about “burden of proof,” truth, empathy, etc.

    1. First, what did you mean when you posted that article about Jews? The author excludes “genetic” explanations because he feels they aren’t reputable. Wouldn’t you agree that most genetic explanations aren’t, that is, they don’t have a good reputation? The author isn’t saying he’s disproved inequality; he’s just saying that those studies aren’t reputable. He’s assuming, not asserting.

    Again, I think it’s the same burden of proof question. One is okay assuming (not necessarily asserting) equality without proof, but assertions or assumptions of inequality demand proof.

    2. I try not to frame my world view in terms of positivism or negativism .  I vow to acknowledge the truth, whatever that truth may be. 

    Do you think that’s really true? Of you, or of anyone else? I’m not saying it’s just you, but I think the truth we seek is much a reflection of how we see the world. If you grew up surrounded by smart, motivated African Americans or daring Asian Americans, quite possibly you would be looking for a different truth than what you’re searching for right now, right? You’d probably pay more attention to that British schoolchildren study than the SAT score study, don’t you think?

    3.

    If people lived the American way, the way that emphasizes the individual, then there should be no problem with that statement. Fuck groups. But it’s offensive because people think of themselves as part of a group, and the need to validate the equality/sameness/superiority of the group that you belong to is so strong that people can’t help but feel offended by it.

    Well, here’s the thing. I don’t think that anyone sees themselves as individuals unconnected with groups. Nor is pure individualism the “American way.”. If you read Tocqueville, groups and associations have been a part of this country ever since its founding. What this means is that Americans may stress individuality, but they still see themselves as part of groups. Hell, try looking for individuals when football season starts. It’s human nature, and most Americans not only understand but value it.

    Even YOU see yourself as part of a group. I remember during the podcast, you specifically mentioned your Chinese heritage. You see yourself as part of that group. There’s nothing wrong with that. Actually, there’s everything right about that. It’s normal to see yourself as part of a group.

    You happen to be fortunate to have come from people who weren’t forced into this country in chains, who didn’t have their names and native languages removed by that enslavement, and whose native countries are not saddled with internal governance problems. Yet if you had come from such a group, it wouldn’t prevent you from seeing these people as your family, your friends, and your community. Now what if someone were saying that your friends and family were dumb/beta/weak/ugly based on an unsubstantiated genetic theory?

    Seeing yourself as part of that group is human nature. Even if you’re not technically part of that group but have friends and mentors who come from that group, you may still feel a part of it.

  5. So therein lies the problem. Group identity is too important to people in this political climate (especially with many racial groups promoting racial identity, including whites who hang out on Stormfront) . Group differences are very hard to accept especially if they produce perceived inequality. So it may be socially necessary to suppress knowledge of group differences to maintain a harmonious society. The political climate that we live in now prevents anyone from speaking out about even the mere possibility of genetically influenced group differences without incurring massive social repercussions. Just look at what happened to Stephanie Grace, James Watson, and Larry Summers. They’ve literally been subjected to what amounts to an American version of a Chinese communist style public shaming. Recant! Recant! Recant! I don’t think this should happen, especially in America, but it does.

    I think your right about the idea of group identity. I’ve thought the same things myself. But as I wrote before, the idea conflicts massively even with the thought of group differences. Most people can’t accept group differences especially if they produce inequality that does not favor their group (some can’t accept it all, even if it favors their group, just look at the Jewologist). There is a huge sense of cognitive dissonance that must be overcome by each individual if group differences are to be discussed.

    My main problem with your “burden of proof” argument is with how you framed your argument. I don’t see the question of inequality vs. equality as that of one which one inequality can be considered a corollary to guilt. I think that’s where the misunderstanding between you and I takes place. I consider it a matter of science, not of legal precedent. There is a burden of proof on both sides to establish scientific positions free from political constraints.

    I presented the sociological paper as an example of the type of thinking that goes on in the social sciences today. “Reputable” is a term that is extremely subjective, and it usually is a word used in reference to current political climates, not to objective truths. Four hundred years ago, reputable people all affirmed the morality of slavery. Geocentric views of the universe were also reputable. You acknowledge what reputation really is when you say that genetic explanations don’t have a good reputation. Why don’t they have a good reputation? To exclude the possibility of the role of genetics in a contentious subject is bad science. Genes and culture are involved in a continuous feedback loop that makes it extremely difficult to discern the effects of each. It’s complicated and cannot be simplified into 100% cultural or 100% genetic explanations, though most sociologists and anthropologists by the nature of their field would like to believe that the explanation can be 100% cultural.

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com/

    Here’s a good blog by Steve Hsu, an Asian-American physics professor at Oregon. He acknowledges HBD, though he doesn’t write so much on the racial dynamic part of it, which I believe may be related to political circumstances. He writes a lot about intelligence, because he’s really intelligent (in any case, much more intelligent than I).

    I’m not infallible and I know that my blog focuses a lot on hereditary explanations of group differences, perhaps to a fault. I see my writing as more entertainment than scientific analysis, so I urge people not to take it so seriously. Of course, I subject myself to more rigorous stands when I practice my “science” (yeah, you still don’t get to know what that is).

    I see the study of black youths in Britain. It’s one study. I consider meta-studies when evaluating evidence on a broad scale, though single studies can be convincing. And meta-studies all point to a genetic component in racial intelligence gaps.

  6. “So therein lies the problem. Group identity is too important to people in this political climate (especially with many racial groups promoting racial identity, including whites who hang out on Stormfront) . Group differences are very hard to accept especially if they produce perceived inequality. So it may be socially necessary to suppress knowledge of group differences to maintain a harmonious society.”

    But the problem is that you may be going against a basic human tendency here. People seem to sort themselves into Us/Other categories, in all cultures. Then, within each culture, there is a battle to establish an identifiable hierarchical order – the most prominent example of this perhaps, being India. Then, on a global level, entire cultures tend to compare and queue themselves, based on whatever criteria: racial, religious, wealth, military might, etc.

    It seems that humans have a need to see themselves as categorically superior to other groups of humans (especially when they are individually unremarkable). I’m not sure that this can be easily changed or suppressed.

  7. My main problem with your “burden of proof” argument is with how you framed your argument. I don’t see the question of inequality vs. equality as that of one which one inequality can be considered a corollary to guilt. I think that’s where the misunderstanding between you and I takes place. I consider it a matter of science, not of legal precedent. There is a burden of proof on both sides to establish scientific positions free from political constraints.

    If you’re asserting that Haiti can’t use Singpore’s model because black people just aren’t as smart as other human beings, you’re saying that they’re guilty of being dumb, when most of them probably see themselves as equal. Without providing proof, you’re making an assertion based on…an assertion. It’s kind of like someone saying, “Your girlfriend prefers midgets.” It’s not a statement of legality, and maybe it is or isn’t a big deal, but unless the speaker has some proof of the validity of the statement, he shouldn’t be making it, especially if your girlfriend says that she does in fact does not prefer midgets. The burden of proof is on the speaker because he’s placing the object of his speech into a category.

    Here’s the second thing–and this goes back to what I was saying before about how you were raised and your experience with black people–where’s the science? You say that you’re establishing a scientific position that focuses on genetic differences in intelligence, but I don’t think you’ve actually done or shown gene analyses. At least none that you’ve brought up here. This is why I think you may have bias. Check out your statement:

    And meta-studies all point to a genetic component in racial intelligence gaps.

    See, you’re making an ASSERTION. Yet what are those genetic components? What genes have people analyzed? As far as I know, all that has been shown is that black people as a group perform worse on tests, but that’s hardly proof of the group’s genetic inferiority. What about social factors? What about history? What about upbringing? This is why I wonder about possible bias. How can you assert that something is related to genes…when you haven’t analyzed genes?

    And have you read “all” the studies? Every single one of these studies? (that don’t reference actual genes.) Think about the craziness of your statement. If all these studies were universally regarded as having indicated something, what is the likelihood that everyone would ignore these findings?

    I mean, seriously, you’re a scientist (even though you won’t disclose which one). If you’re an astronomer, how do you make statements about stars without either observing them or observing some indication that comes from them?

    This has less to do with HBD and more to do with how one should make statements and come to decide between what is fact and what is stereotype.

    Just look at what happened to Stephanie Grace, James Watson, and Larry Summers. They’ve literally been subjected to what amounts to an American version of a Chinese communist style public shaming. Recant! Recant! Recant! I don’t think this should happen, especially in America, but it does.

    When you’re a celebrity, you’re a celebrity. I wish Kate Gosselin weren’t in the news so much, but it’s not something I control. Larry Summers should have known better. He’s a manager, for chrissakes. His JOB is to lead people, and if he’s making public statements about their abilities based on gender, he’s not leading them effectively. Watson was in a similar position and was a figurehead for his organization. Their success is based upon how well they lead. If you ask me, professionally, they got what was coming to them. Bottom line: people ought to do their jobs!

    Good blog, btw, by Steve Hsu. AA stuff, plus MMA. You can’t go wrong with that. I didn’t see anything related to HBD/categorization of races, but I did see his IQ thing. I disagree with him on his IQ focus, but then again I didn’t see any statements that are really all that disputable either. IQ and success in life show a positive correlation? That’s probably true and would be provable through analysis of the numbers. If he said that blacks were on average dumber, I think he’d need to provide proof. He would have to isolate their IQ performance from their social upbringing. That’s what a scientist would do.

  8. @J

    I think you’re spot on with establishing the rules of engagement. Afterall, it is your blog. And as the moderator, you’d want to facilitate productive discourse (which I believe was your original intent for this blog anyway).

    One of the first things I ever learned in academic writing is that opinions and assertions are okay, AS LONG AS YOU PROVIDE PROOF. Your professor or colleagues may hold a different opinion than yours, but the burden of proof, like you said, lies with the original writer making the aforementioned assertion.

    (Do I have to provide proof for the aforementioned opinion?)

    lol

  9. Thanks, Ben.

    I just referred to the policy again.

    http://www.bigwowo.com/2010/10/tyler-clementi-and-the-american-pie-webcam-tragedy/#comment-6932

    I hope people don’t think I’m being a hard-ass, but we need to have rules of engagement. We can’t have people flinging accusations based on race and then expect to have productive dialogue. Even though we’re technically restricting the dialogue, I think we make it better when we create an atmosphere where people are valued for their opinions rather than shot down because of the supposed shortcomings of their race. This is how we bring out democratic debate!

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