kanazawa and racism

A reader kindly pointed me in the direction of an incident in Psychology Today where Satoshi Kanazawa wrote a post asking, “Why Are African American Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?” The post has been taken down, in part because it is staggeringly racist. But it’s not just racist. It represents some of the sloppiest research imaginable. That seems to be a theme of Kanazawa’s work (I’m not sure how common his racism is, but reviewing his work and responses to it online over the last hour, I am sure that his work is terribly done. Good thing he has tenure at LSE). Anyway, if you were wondering Kanazawa’s answer is about as intelligent as his question,

The only thing I can think of that might potentially explain the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women is testosterone. Africans on average have higher levels of testosterone than other races, and testosterone, being an androgen (male hormone), affects the physical attractiveness of men and women differently. Men with higher levels of testosterone have more masculine features and are therefore more physically attractive. In contrast, women with higher levels of testosterone also have more masculine features and are therefore less physically attractive. The race differences in the level of testosterone can therefore potentially explain why black women are less physically attractive than women of other races, while (net of intelligence) black men are more physically attractive than men of other races.

Wow. I won’t bother to comment on this, as lots of bloggers have taken it on. But I thought I’d guide you in their direction (see below). I will note that such racism and pseudo-science is nothing new for Kanazawa. This is a man who wrote, 

Imagine that, on September 11, 2001, when the Twin Towers came down, the President of the United States was not George W. Bush, but Ann Coulter. What would have happened then? On September 12, President Coulter would have ordered the US military forces to drop 35 nuclear bombs throughout the Middle East, killing all of our actual and potential enemy combatants, and their wives and children. On September 13, the war would have been over and won, without a single American life lost. Yes, we need a woman in the White House, but not the one who’s running [he’s referring here to Hillary Clinton]

Here are some bloggers who have taken on Kanazawa’s racism on attractiveness:


Psychology Today     As well as here



  1. Posted May 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Kanazawa is a multidimensional, intergalactic, category five jackass. Any time I think he can’t possibly find a more stupidly trollish EP seam to mine on the subject of race, sex, intelligence, or religion, he does. It looks like he might finally have pushed it a bit too far this time, though, as the backlash within the LSE is pretty severe, and the last thing they need at the moment is more international attention focused on the quality of their academics.


  2. Posted May 18, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that Psychology Today would actually post something from Kanazawa. I know it’s ‘pop’ psychology but still…I have British citizenship but I think I’ll stay in the American Academy. Kanazawa is a disgrace to LSE


  3. Posted May 18, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    As the headline should read: “Add Health interviewers find Black women unattractive”, SK’s unfounded and offhand speculation about testosterone is really over the top.

    As an independent blogger I can say anything I want, and have only my own reputation to besmirch. But it does seem like the psychologists as a group and Psychology Today as a publication would have a stake in not having their brand associated with this kind of stuff.

    Is there a link to LSE blowback?


    • Posted May 18, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      It appears they let their bloggers post without editorial review. Their brand-protection kicked in after the uproar, and they took it down then.


      • Posted May 18, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

        Yes, but don’t they have any standards about WHO they let post without review? Will they continue to let him post without review? It does seem to me that they bear some responsibility.


    • Posted May 18, 2011 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

      Just so we’re clear about the larger context, Kanazawa is not any old Psychology Today blogger. My recollection is that he was one of their original bloggers, and I had thought he was still one of their most widely read, although it looks like the current format of their site doesn’t feature his the way it used to.


      • Posted May 18, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

        People who say outrageous things are generally more widely read than those who stay within the bounds of what data support. Is your comment meant to criticize PT or to defend it? From knowing your general opinions, I assume the former, but your comment itself could be read either way.


      • Posted May 18, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        I just meant to distinguish PT’s relationship to Kanazawa from, for example, any backbencher-type blogger who might put things on Huffington Post or Daily Kos.


      • Posted May 18, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Permalink

        If by “backbencher” you mean, “above taking payment,” I’ll take that as a compliment. But I guess it is worth asking if they pay (or paid) him.


  4. Posted May 18, 2011 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Not to dwell on the trees instead of the forest, here. But does anyone understand this?:

    “From these three scores, I can compute the latent ‘physical attractiveness factor’ by a statistical procedure called factor analysis. Factor analysis has the added advantage of eliminating all random measurement errors that are inherent in any scientific measurement.”


  5. spidersharp
    Posted May 18, 2011 at 7:45 pm | Permalink




  6. Posted May 18, 2011 at 9:01 pm | Permalink

    Factor analysis has the added advantage of eliminating all random measurement errors that are inherent in any scientific measurement

    And of course it also has the advantage of necessarily yielding a positively-loaded factor amongst any set of positively correlated variables, which is very useful when you are spinning some line of BS about underlying latent causes.


  7. ladril1
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    This is the kind of research the British government funds while the country is shaken by protests against higher education cuts.

    BTW, did I mention Black girls rock?


  8. eischwartz
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Satoshi Kanazawa does evolutionary psychology a real disservice. Rob Kurzban, a sensible EPer, weighs in here:



  9. jessienyc
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    As much as Psychology Today should be held to account for publishing Kanazawa’s (unreviewed)work, so too should the many sociology journals that have published his (peer-reviewed) work. You know, just in case there was any doubt about how deeply conservative mainstream sociology is, here’s a list of his pubs in some of our top journals:
    Kanazawa, Satoshi (2004) Social sciences are branches of biology. Socio-Economic Review, 2 (3). pp. 371-390.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi and Savage, J (2004) Social capital and the human psyche: why is social life “capital”? Sociological Theory, 22 (3). pp. 504-524.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi (2003) Can evolutionary psychology explain reproductive behavior in the contemporary United States? Sociological Quarterly, 44 (2). pp. 291-302.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi (2003) Reading shadows on Plato’s cave wall. American Sociological Review, 68 (1). pp. 159-160.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi (2001) Science vs. history: a reply to MacDonald. Social Forces, 80 (1). pp. 349-352.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi (2001) A bit of logic goes a long way: a reply to Sanderson. Social Forces, 80 (1). pp. 337-341.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi (2001) Why we love our children. American Journal of Sociology, 106 (6). pp. 1761-1776.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi (2001) De gustibus est disputandum. Social Forces, 79 (3). pp. 1131-1163.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi and Still, Mary C. (2000) Why men commit crimes (and why they desist). Sociological Theory, 18 (3). pp. 434-447.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi (2000) A new solution to the collective action problem: the paradox of voter turnout. American Sociological Review, 65 (3). pp. 433-442.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi and Still, Mary C. (1999) Why monogamy? Social Forces, 78 (1). pp. 25-50.
    Kanazawa, Satoshi (1998) In defense of unrealistic assumptions. Sociological Theory, 16 (2). pp. 193-204.

    List of pubs copied from here: http://www.dictionaryofneurology.com/2011/05/naked-racism-of-psychology-today.html


    • Posted May 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

      I don’t get it. So basically, a person says something in an informal forum that is seriously offensive and empirically dubious (OW put it best as saying the data really shows only that “Add Health interviewers find Black women unattractive”). By extension this means that all of the person’s formal work is not only anathema, but somehow reflects poorly on the discipline/journals that accepted it?

      I have read the 1998 ST publication (a defense of game theory and simulations) closely and not only did I like it enough to cite it, but I think it would be a stretch to say that this article is making any claims about politics or human nature.

      That said, I admit that I’m not familiar with most of these publications and on reading them I would probably accept that they demonstrate that mainstream sociology is open to “deeply conservative” ideas (by which I assume you mean “to take an essentialist view of human nature in general and human differences in particular”) and this may be an important thing to keep in mind if and when people criticize sociology as being close-minded to such notions. However, it is hardly fair to say that they demonstrate that mainstream sociology is “deeply conservative” without also checking to see whether our top journals also publish contrary ideas, which I can assure you they do. A more interesting question but one that is harder to answer is whether a preference for a particular viewpoint comes out in peer review being relatively strict for one side or the other of a political/epistemological/scientific issue, while still allowing the occasional article to sneak through. Jeremy is probably our resident expert best qualified to take a stab at this question for the particular issue of EP.


    • Posted May 19, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      I agree with Gabriel here. Do I think Kanazawa wrote an idiotic and racist piece in Psychology Today? Yes. But I’m not willing to say that EVERYTHING he’s written is racist. All I’ve looked at is his more recent work, which is published mostly in popular areas like blogs. I find that incredibly sloppy and problematic. But that doesn’t mean that, by extension, everything the guy has done is racist, sloppy, and problematic. I’m defending the journals here (in principle, again, I haven’t read the work). These things could very well be worth publishing, though written by a guy who in other contexts writes idiotic racist things. So to throw the journals under the bus I’d first want to see that his sloppiness and and/or racism is present in the actual work he published in these articles.


  10. jessienyc
    Posted May 19, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    Gabriel and Shakha write that it’s unfair to throw peer-reviewed sociology articles out the window along with blog posts, and they both make a valid point which I concede. However,there are two points here where I suspect we’ll have to agree to disagree:
    1) Gabriel writes: A more interesting question but one that is harder to answer is whether a preference for a particular viewpoint comes out in peer review being relatively strict for one side or the other of a political/epistemological/scientific issue, while still allowing the occasional article to sneak through.
    I agree this is an interesting question and research exists which looks at this with regard to race in sociology. See Stephen Steinberg’s Race Relations: A Critique (Stanford University Press, 2007) and Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva’s White Logic, White Methods (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). And, a broader critique of the quest for “scientism” in sociology exists in a wide range of places, including Bannister’s 1991 book, Sociology and Scientism.
    2)Shakha writes: “I find that incredibly sloppy and problematic. But that doesn’t mean that, by extension, everything the guy has done is racist, sloppy, and problematic.”
    Yes and no. His blog post about black women suggests that, at the very least, he holds a view of black women as *inherently* inferior at some fundamental level. That strikes me as beyond ‘sloppy and problematic,’ and from where I sit, calls into question the intellectual integrity of his other work (and by extension the endorsement of it). It’s not unlike the controversy surrounding Paul de Man, when the discovery of his deeply anti-Semitic writing called into question the rest of his life and work, and with it, questions about the amorality of postmodernism.
    Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not that sort of discovery (de Man’s anti-semitism or Kanazawa’s racism) discredits a larger body of work or a school of thought (postmodernism), but I for one am comfortable with arguing we should reconsider previous work and schools of thought in light of this kind of revelation because it suggests something about the domain assumptions of such work and the ethical implications of doing that work.
    But that’s just me. Then again, I haven’t really enjoyed a Woody Allen movie since that whole Sun Yi thing.


    • Posted May 19, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      I find this an impossible standard to uphold. First, it would mean basically not reading anything written before the 1950s, at best. Weber has terribly racist things to say in his writings (read him on the character of “orientals”). Countless authors had deep held sexist and homophobic attitudes. Does this mean we can’t accept their “intellectual integrity”? Perhaps. But it’s a big leap for me to take.

      My issue is the suggestion that sociology journals should be “held to account” for publishing his work because in OTHER work he has proven himself to racist. If it can be clearly demonstrated that he has published racist works in journals, then, yes, we must hold them to account. But I haven’t read those works. And I can’t say that that has happened. Journals cannot know everything a writer has written before, and make decisions on that basis. Instead, they can and must make decisions on the basis of the work that is before them. And if that work is not problematic, they can and should publish it. Otherwise the demand that journals be held to account on thoughts not in their journals seems rather extreme. Have a problem with what’s published in journals? Fine. But this kind of extension principle is a real slippery slope, I think.


  11. Posted May 19, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

    With the exception of the 2004 and 2003 articles (two each), the rest of Kanazawa’s publications are a decade or more old. So it could be that he just went on a different path (a stupid one). Perhaps he wanted to become a public intellectual. I mean too bad he’s a racist jerk, but he’s probably making a lot of money.

    I don’t think these sociology journals should be held accountable for his idiotic stuff today. I mean of course there’s bias in peer review and paridigm preferences but not to this extent. I don’t think ASR, Social Forces etc. want to ever publish poorly-done research Also, on a different note see link below — there’s a growing movement to get him dismissed. I doubt it will happen but interesting nonetheless.



    • Posted May 19, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

      Kanazawa has published a considerable amount in peer-reviewed journals the intervening time, just in general not in sociology journals. He has basically left/was-exiled-from sociology and holds an extremely strong distaste for mainstream sociology–which makes this whole thing where he’s supposedly the avatar of mainstream sociology weird.

      Disclosure: Jessie did not reference a 2010 article by Kanazawa in SPQ, an ASA journal, which received considerable media attention and for which I was a reviewer. Indeed, I wrote a long and intendedly constructive review that resulted in sufficient revision of that paper that Kanazawa asked the editor whether I would be willing to be acknowledged by name (despite it being a blind review), to which I agreed.


  12. volscho
    Posted May 20, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

    There is also a fascinating strategy used by SK. When someone issues a critique, it turns out that SK is not wrong, only that he is really a persecuted scientist, a modern-day Galileo, Copernicus, etc and instead of the Roman Catholic church, it is feminists and people of color who have now somehow been able to achieve so much power that they can censor his research. It is a nice card to play.

    Kanazawa’s recent work is a continuation of the Scientific Racism, of the kind that Rushton and the Pioneer Fund promote.

    -Download a dataset
    -Run hundreds of regressions
    -Find something significant
    -Report only the models which support your hypothesis
    -Write a catchy headline-worthy title
    -Send it to a journal where the reviewer pool may be familiar with the theory but not w/social science data so it has a decent swing at acceptance
    -Email the abstract to a list of pro-EP science journalists in your Outlook contacts
    -When people criticize it, you can say you are a persecuted scientist
    -Get media attention, repeat


  13. volscho
    Posted May 20, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a prediction. If SK blogs again, he will write something about Arnold Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn and how it is natural for powerful men to go forth and multiply. Therefore, Arnold was just maximizing his reproductive success (I forget how they put it).


  14. Posted May 23, 2011 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    h/t to kieran for linking to this: someone who actually did a decent job with the analysis SK wanted to do:



One Trackback

  1. By Book of Saturday » Universalism on May 22, 2011 at 2:02 am

    […] Satoshi Kanazawa has repeatedly defaced science by making racist claims wrapped in the slobbiest evolutionary psychology that one could pull. His idiocy is a disgrace to anyone who cares about the shameful state of our societies, in which racial and ethnic stratification still run very deep into our institutions, and about the status of science as a profession that should ultimately serve the general interest by denouncing racism as a pathetic brand of hateful rhetoric. […]



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