In his very first post, "If the truth offends, it’s our job to offend", he defended the laudable notion that scientists should follow the evidence wherever it may lead. He took it a bit far for my liking though, by arguing scientists should never think about the consequences of their research. Said Kanazawa, "Scientists are not responsible for the potential or actual consequences of the knowledge they create." Really? If a physicist's experiment might, say, create a black hole and destroy the earth, should she ignore this possibility? Were the Manhattan Project scientists wrong to worry about igniting the atmosphere (pdf)? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for PC-bashing, academic freedom and following the evidence where it leads, but the notion that scientists should never consider the consequences of their research is absurd. Bacon was right: knowledge is power. But it's not necessarily or always a power for good. In some cases - the extreme ones - scientists should most certainly consider this.
The above, however, is pretty minor compared to Kanazawa's latest post, "Why we are losing this war". Why is it, he asks, that WWI and WWII lasted only four years but the "war on terror" has lasted seven years, with no end in sight? (Ignore for the moment the fact that, by any reasonable definition, WWII lasted six years, not four). Why is it that the West did not quickly defeat enemies who are much poorer, less well-equipped, and comparatively technologically backward? Kanazawa answers:
It seems to me that there is one resource that our enemies have in abundance but we don’t: hate. We don’t hate our enemies nearly as much as they hate us. They are consumed in pure and intense hatred of us, while we appear to have PC’ed hatred out of our lexicon and emotional repertoire... We may be losing this war because our enemies have a full range of human emotions while we don’t.This is an interesting theory, and it could be right, but it's not clear to me why Kanazawa highlights this single factor. Firstly, he doesn't seem to have enough evidence to argue this is the only or even most important variable. Where are his citations to rigorous academic research demonstrating his 'hate theory' is anything more than only vaguely inspired by evolutionary considerations, anything but feral speculation? Secondly, the war on terror is asymmetric and regular armies have always had trouble with enemies who employ terrorist and guerrilla tactics, no matter how much they hated them. Thirdly, it's unclear whether the war on terror really qualifies as a "war" in the traditional sense and can thus be settled by military means. Lastly, there is a much better argument for why powerful countries lose wars against less capable enemies: Andrew Mack (1975)'s application of the life-dinner principle to international politics. Mack argued that when powerful countries, like the United States, are defeated by weak ones, like Vietnam, it is not because of the 'insurgents' military victory on the ground', but because of "the progressive attrition of their opponents' political capability to wage war" (1975: 177). That is, relatively weak enemies win exactly because they are weak, because the conflict is asymmetric: weak enemies do not pose an existential risk to their opponents, but powerful ones do. Consequently, the war is necessarily "total" for the weak and "limited" for the powerful. (That's where the life-dinner principle comes in: why does the hare run faster than the hound? Because the hare is running for its life, but the hound merely for its dinner). There are, I admit, a number of wrinkles here (most importantly, terrorists may pose an existential risk if they acquire weapons of mass destruction and it could be that people only hate powerful enemies) but I'll skip over these and ask the concerned reader to look at Mack's paper (who addresses a number of potential concerns that might arise).
The real reason I'm worried about Kanazawa, however, only emerges in the second to last paragraph, when he writes:
Here’s a little thought experiment. 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.The above, to be sure, is somewhat ambiguous. It could be that what he's saying is that, were Coulter president, she would have hated her new-found enemies appropriately, nuked the Middle East and thus "won" the war on terror in a day. But it could be that Kanazawa doesn't think that would have been a good idea, it could be that he's simply arguing hypothetically without endorsing that course of action. And yet... it really doesn't read that way. The tone, the context, and the register all suggest to me that Kanazawa would have approved of a nuclear response to 9/11. And this, I submit, is a little extreme. Forget for the moment that killing millions of innocent people is a Bad Thing, forget that the Middle East contains a good proportion of the world's oil, forget that America's democratic ally Israel is in the Middle East, forget that the fall-out would do extensive damage to other parts of the world, forget that there are tens of thousands of Americans (and far more other foreigners) living in the area, forget that the environmental damage would be enormous, forget that the Middle East contains innumerable priceless cultural artifacts, forget that there are hundreds of millions of Muslims living outside the Middle East (India, Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.), and forget that 9/11 was planned from Afghanistan, outside the Middle East. Have you forgotten all of these factors (and any others you came up with for yourself)? Good. Now it's a good idea to nuke the entire Middle East. Now only does it make any sense whatsoever to call the hypothetical nuclear destruction of the entire Middle East a "victory" for America.
Kanazawa ends his article with, "Yes, we need a woman in the White House, but not the one who’s running." I agree this too is somewhat ambiguous, but, wow, he really seems to be saying Ann Coulter would make a better president than Hillary Clinton. Coulter, for those of you who don't know, is a batshit crazy, deeply uninformed Creationist, extreme right-wing, fundamentalist Christian. (Have a look at her website or her page on Wikiquote). I find it hard to think of someone who would be a worse president.
Unless I have been uncharitable, unless I have misrepresented his position, and unless he was joking, Kanazawa is crazy. Frankly, he gives evolutionary psychology a bad name by associating it with this kind of extremism. Evolutionary psychologists are not the heartless right-wingers they're sometimes characterized as being (Tybur, Miller & Gangestad, 2007), but Kanazawa is hardly helping to combat that erroneous perception with posts like these.
Mack, A. (1975) "Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars: The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict," World Politics, 27(2): 175-200.
Tybur, J. M., Miller, G. F., & Gangestad, S. W. (2007) "Testing the controversy: An empirical examination of adaptationists' attitudes towards politics and science," Human Nature, 18(4): 313-328.