On Dziebel, Out-of-America, and Anthropology: Response to Razib Khan

Razib Khan has reacted to my frequent bludgeoning of him. Here are a few quick rejoinders to set the record straight. But there will be no more follow ups. This blog is not about bickering.

1. On Dziebel‘s style

Razib Khan now knows how it feels when someone treats you as “stupid, ignorant or lazy.” If Razib Khan is comfortable with writing something like this:

“There is no philosophical issue for me with the way I treat people who comment. I am a person of the Right, I believe that there is a need for hierarchy, that humans are not the same and exhibit profound inequality in ability, and great difference in disposition.”

And like this:

“I’d say I run this place as if I’m Sulla during the period in his life when he was the dictator of the Roman Republic.”

Then, he should be comfortable if someone like me applies the same attitude to him. Because he deserves it when he portrays Bantu prehistory as a genocide of foragers, when he accuses Nicholas Wade of a “fake controversy,” while creating one of his own, when he jumps the gun to congratulate Dienekes on trumpeting a spurious genetic proof for an Indo-European homeland model, or when he assumes that Native American tribes are wrong in not donating their samples to science.

It’s Republic of Dziebel now. And Dziebel likes spicy food, that’s why

“He assumes he knows all the details of my life, as well as of Dienekes’, and constructs scenarios and root causes of why we behave as we do….”

And, yes,

“Dienekes’ ideas are actually garblings of wisdom he long ago imparted to the benighted blogger, while minor details like my putting up a comments policy had to have been triggered by my reading of a weblog (his)…”

I thought Razib Khan liked habaneros. Apparently not.

2. On Dziebel’s substance

Razib Khan complains: “The Dziebel is apparently never wrong!” and that “his theoretical frame and models inferred are so strange and bizarre that it often takes energy to get at what he’s saying.”

All the underlying theories and data I operate with are fairly mainstream. They are just broader than the usual set of theories and data applied to the question of modern human origins. If Razib Khan doesn’t understand them, it never hurts to ask. It’s my interpretation of a larger set of interdisciplinary data that’s often different from the consensus derived from a narrower set of disciplines. I’m fine with being wrong, as long as I’m indeed wrong. Razib has never addressed the substance of the out-of-America theory, so I didn’t get a chance to be wrong.

Razib Khan jabs: “He has to brandish his two Ph.D.s and concoct scenarios where all original thought derives from the Mind-of-Dziebel.”

There are two hemispheres in this world – Eastern and Western. Both hemispheres have primates and modern humans. Let’s look at modern human evolution from the perspective of both hemispheres. It’s just common sense, not the “Mind-of-Dziebel.”

Razib Khan compares me with Jason Androsio and says “but Androsio actually engages on details of substance instead of harping on personal and stylistic peeves.”

I do both. More on substance, but sometimes on style, too. I still have to see Razib Khan engaging with anthropologists on substance.

Razib Khan accuses me of not capable of a dialogue:

“A major reason I banned him from this weblog is that he is highly persistent and prolific when he puts his mind to it, and totally immune to reciprocal interaction aside from that which might flatter his ego or theories.”

The truth is Razib Khan never engaged with me in any “reciprocal interaction.” Once he wanted to (“so you and german can have a long discussion? i kind of wondered about doing that too”), but never got around. Probably because he never felt that he’s competent enough.

3. On the Out-of-America theory of modern human origins

Razib Khan thinks that there is something apriori wrong with advancing a theory such as “out-of-America” because nobody else has done it. I, on the contrary, believe that science cannot make progress without working through “preposterous” theories. And we don’t know if a theory is true or false unless we thoroughly test a radical alternative across all available disciplines. Contra Razib Khan, I “eventually get frustrated” not because “people don’t recognize” my “awesome genius” but because people ignore common sense and normal science. Apparently there’s a pre-scientific “aversion to reversals” going on here. People just have their mind set on one course of events (however speculative) and every reversal thereof is met with irrational antagonism. I realize “how marginal a position [it] is and how much of a burden of proof there is to get others to reconsider a standard theory” (TGGP) but I don’t see why I should remain silent or be another scholar to harp on the “standard theory.” Maybe academic science shouldn’t be pushing so linearly into one direction, but be more balanced in terms of weighing alternatives along the way; then those “marginal positions” simply wouldn’t emerge.

Update: 08.01.2012

S. J. Esposito offered a distorted reading of the passage above:

“His positions are not taken for the right reasons: i.e., he is eager to find a way to ‘make a name’ in (what he calls) science, so he takes up radical positions that he knows are damn near indefensible. But when he’s called out on, he claims that taking up unorthodox positions is a part of science.”

Science evolves and it evolves via what originally may seem as a “preposterous idea.” Testing an established consensus against an alternative results in either the triumph of the consensus or the triumph of the alternative. I understand that certain things are entrenched in science, but some of them are entrenched not because of the facts behind them but because these are fossilized retentions from pre-scientific worldviews. A recent peopling of the Americas (by Siberians or Jews) is a pre-scientific belief that got adopted by scientists who produced some evidence in its favor but it cannot be considered a fact-based platform. I offer a radical alternative because there is evidence suggestive that the recent peopling of the Americas and out-of-Africa are wrong. (The falseness of the classic out-of-Africa is now well established.) And since nobody has ever considered this alternative, chances are science misrepresented reality by uncritically adopting pre-scientific speculations.

Apparently, S. J. Esposito “last week was browsing through Dienekes’ blog and saw that he had made some ridiculous out-of-America comment.” Judging by the fact that S. J. Esposito doesn’t point to exactly what comment was made and doesn’t explain why he considers it ridiculous, I just have to assume that he’s not interested in the substance of the matter but is simply ticked off by a theory that challenges his (ultimately pre-scientific) beliefs.

Dienekes, who I have criticized on a number of occasions for his views on Indo-European origins and the Arabia homeland for modern humans, retaliated with the following statement:

“Climate, geology, and genetics have colluded for hundreds of thousands of years to deny us of all evidence of early modern man in the Americas, but I’ll believe in Out-of-America anyway, because my brilliant kinship/linguistic analysis tells me so, and I look down upon brutish sciences like population genetics, archaeology, and physical anthropology that contradict me.”

The grain of truth behind this usual Dienekezoid rant is that I do define the task of modern human origins research as first and foremost behavioral modern human origins. This has been a weak point of all mainstream theories of modern human origins. Hence, I treat patterns of linguistic variation (e.g., highest levels of linguistic diversity as measured by stocks are in the New World and Papua New Guinea and not in Africa), human kinship systems (see The Genius of Kinship), the distribution of cultural traits such as folklore motifs or musical traditions, and human social behavior (pair-bonding, cooperative breeding, paternal investment, etc.) seriously and don’t consider then epiphenomenal to genetic, archaeological or paleobiological evidence. So, out-of-America is indeed a top-down, rather than a bottom-up approach. But human culture and behavior may play a bigger role in defining global variation as detected through genetics, archaeology, “climate” and physical anthropology. For instance, if ancestral human populations were heavily structured due to prescriptive (bilateral) cross-cousin marriage reconstructed by social anthropologists and human dispersals were associated with the progressive changes in the marital prescription, then all the genetic models based on the assumption of panmictic populations may need revision. This will cast into doubt the validity of the argument that decreasing genetic diversity with increasing distance from Africa indicates origin in Africa and the recent peopling of the Americas. Linguistic diversity in the Americas will then be a better indicator of population age than genetic diversity. Or, if rates of polygyny affect human skin color variation, then the relatively light pigmentation of Amerindians compared to Sub-Saharan Affricans may reflect not the length of occupation in the tropics but the contrast between low-to-moderate rates of polygyny in the New World vs. world-highest rates of polygyny among African farmers.

Only a holistic approach to modern human origins can answer the question “where we came from.” I’m just putting the scales in balance by bringing unduly ignored evidence to bear on one of the fundamental problems of anthropology (sic!).

Razib Khan’s site is a treasure trove of rare specimens of net humans – no need to travel to exotic places. One of them is miko who claims to be a “biologist interested in the relationships between genes, neural circuits, behavior, and evolution” whose blog titles, however, have nothing to do with who he thinks he is. Some of them are “What’s good for Bob Horvitz is good for America,” “Never half step because I’m not a half-stepper,” etc. Behind these titles is a committed bio-Nazi who hates the very sound of the word “mind.” In his biology-induced stupor, he claims that I’m “a dualist who knows nothing about biology.” Razib Khan who whines about being a “target of attacks by creepy net-nazis” apparently has plenty of them right under his nose, as miko has been around for years without ever showing anything close to an intellectual “A-game.”

Update: 08.03.12

Another interesting specimen that can make any museum of anthropology proud is Andrew Oh-Willeke, a Denver-based attorney who runs a politics and law blog entitled “Washed Park Prophet”. In his other blog, he transcends law and politics to talk about human origins and dispersals. His brand of symbolic behavior is what I once called “encyclopedic ignorance” – Oh-Willeke can write cliched prose on any topic in the world only to admit plenty of factual and logical mistakes. This time, he called my book “self-published.” In reality, it was published by an academic press. It’s high cost is explained by the fact that it’s marketed to academic libraries and not individuals. Presumably, because individuals such as Oh-Willeke don’t need to read it. And what is this crackpot attorney doing blogging about human origins anyway? Maybe I could sue him for defamation?

4. On Anthropology

Razib Khan frequently bashes anthropology (a “voodoo science” whose practitioners “should stick to their picketing the econ department”) without any substance to the critique. It’s not appropriate for a Discover blog. It hurts the Discover brand (you can trust the person who works in marketing and advertising) and it makes its proprietor look stupid. He singles out a couple of “good” anthropologists, and Henry Harpending is one of them. But Henry Harpending is a marginal anthropologist (nothing personal and, as proof, I quoted Harpending on Razib Khan’s blog) by any standards – contemporary anthropology has evolved past positivist approaches (for better or worse), so he’s a minority in a redefined field. But, as an anthropologist, he’s a minority at the National Academy of Sciences, too. One shouldn’t cherry-pick anthropologists who fit the agenda of the blog and then bash all others. Anthropology is a complex field. Razib should take a couple of years off and study it, if he wants to blog about human origins, religion or politics. A degree in biochemistry and an Unz Fellowship seem like a non-starter considering the issues he’s trying to tackle.

I think this is it. Ask me questions if you have any. But please respect my comments policy and post all your anti-Dziebel rants on Razib Khan’s blog. (FYI: The comment signed as “Hallie Scott Kline” must be Henry Harpending’s).