LSE would appear to be paying someone who publishes articles saying “”Black women are … far less attractive than white, Asian, and Native American women.”* And somehow such claims got past Psychology Today‘s editorial – although the article has now been removed.

Where to begin? With the racism? The assumption that there are uncontroversial standards of physical attractiveness? Ug.

* Caveat: I haven’t read the now removed article and can’t access his research papers. But its hard to imagine how that claim couldn’t be problematic.

33 thoughts on “Er…

  1. If you have an FB account, The Society of Young Black Philosophers has a discussion about it up

    And a student group (I think) from the LSE has a petition up

    Psychology Today took down the article, but you can read it here

  2. Sorry here are the hyperlinks:

    If you have an FB account, The Society of Young Black Philosophers has a discussion about it up

    And a student group (I think) from the LSE has a petition up

    Psychology Today took down the article, but you can read it here

  3. Feministing’s post on this included this link to a repost of the Psychology Today article by Kanazawa:…/5241bb8866a545a7aafefe26b6268e01?sn=3

    I wouldn’t recommend reading it, per se, but here it is if anyone wants to know exactly what got put up.

    Also, some links to other posts about it that I have found interesting, including the Feministing one, a post from Feministe, and 2 from Colorlines (including one about firing the author).

  4. Very weird. However, if in the context of the article “more attractive” simply = being attributed a higher average attractiveness ranking (perceived as more attractive) by the respondents, is he really assuming “that there are uncontroversial standards of physical attractiveness”?

  5. Nemo, he uses the phrase “objectively less attractive” to describe people who were perceived to be less attractive by those who were ranking them. That seems to imply some level of uncontroversial standards of attractiveness.

  6. He also draws an explicit contrast in the article between “objective attractiveness” and how black women “subjectively consider themselves”. I’m not sure if part of the article is missing from the reprint, but I read it a few times and I still have no idea what he’s talking about when he talks about “objective attractiveness.” No idea at all. His article even links to another Psychology Today article that also discusses objective attractiveness, and it doesn’t seem to make more sense there.

    As others have mentioned, his article detours through a discussion of discredited measurements of intelligence and body-mass before he offers his explanation. “Head scratcher” doesn’t even begin to describe the article.

  7. When he refers to objective physical attractiveness, I understand him to be referring to the tendency of the person’s appearance to trigger an attraction response in other individuals, as measured by the test. Notwithstanding that the article isn’t well-written, I don’t think it was overly hard to discern basically what he was referring to there – perhaps I’m wrong about it though. “Subjective” in his usage appears simply to mean self-rated (either a response of attraction to one’s own appearance, or one’s own prediction of the tendency of one’s own appearance to trigger an attraction response in others). Anyway, assuming I’ve correctly understood what he is using the term “objective physical attractiveness” to refer to, it doesn’t seem to me that it requires any two people to agree on particular standards of attractiveness (e.g. what they find attractive in someone else), or imply that such standards would or should be uncontroversial across a set of individuals. He’s measuring an overall tendency to attract.

  8. Oh, good Lord…This is the same guy, or at least the same ilk, who decided that

    1) Asian men : Higher intelligence/smaller penis
    2) Caucasian men: Average intelligence/average penis
    3) African men: Lower intelligence/larger penis

    So let’s make our own chart, shall we? Based, of course, on “objective” information.

    First, the reason this dough-head says black women are “objectively less attractive” is their mean body mass index (BMI), which according to the article is 26.1. Translated into actual numbers, that’s 5’4″ and 152 lbs. That’s also the average American woman.

    Factor in a clear ignorance of women’s bodies (and likely hostility toward women in general) and what “health” actually means.

    Second, factor in a clear lack of understanding of what sort of sample stats are supposed to draw from. Whose idea of “attractive” is this, anyway?

    Add a clear case of “Jungle Fever,” since the article goes on to state that African men have a higher testosterone level…Higher than what?

    So our chart would look like this:

    Racism: High
    Misogyny: High
    Ignorance: Very High
    Probability this guy needs a cuff upside the head and a copy of How to Lie With Statistics: Off the charts

    What I want to know is how such drivel made it past the editors at _Psychology Today_. They should know better.

  9. I have been following this guy for a while. This Kanazawa post is particularly awful, but if you look at the guy’s blog, you will see that he has been sharing sexist, racist, anti-feminist drivel for a long time, and calling it science and emphasizing his position at the LSE.

    But, think twice about looking at his blog. This scandalous article may have increased the number of hits he is getting. yuck.

  10. It may be worth noting that apparently at some point before Kanazawa’s post was removed, its original title (“Why Are Black Women Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women?”) was changed — by Kanazawa? the PT editors? — to “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men.” Under this revised title, a rather nuanced reading, along the lines suggested above by Nemo, has been offered by Robert Kurzban (before, as he notes in the comments, he knew of the original title) and, perhaps a bit more charitably, by Michael Mills.

  11. Kanazawa has made a career dropping poorly-built scholar “bombs”. I knew him in grad school and he had a mediocre career as a rational choice theorist in sociology before he realized that more people will read his work if it isn’t peer reviewed and simultaneously 1) creates some kind of outrage, and 2) appeals to a market segment drooling for tidbits like this.

    And Rob is correct, Kurzban’s response is good simply for trying to mediate he philosophy of science debate.

  12. Rob, that’s interesting about the revision to the title. The new title has the benefit of perhaps signalling something important about what “attractiveness” means in the context of the article (i.e. that it has something to do with a measurable response triggered in other people). On the other hand, for the very same reason, the new title arguably suffers from – well, I’m not certain redundancy is the word I’m looking for, but something related, because (assuming of course that the ratings are sincere) to be rated more strongly and more often as attractive is kind of what “more attractive” is referring to here.

    This is a different situation from many other studies we’re used to that investigate people’s responses to others. For example, if someone did a study in which respondents rated Smith as having more integrity than Jones, they presumably wouldn’t write an article called “Why does Smith have more integrity that Jones”, but quite possibly “Why is Smith rated as having more integrity than Jones”?

    I don’t want to get off on an aesthetics tangent, but I wonder if some of the objections here aren’t caused by the objectors having come to think of physical attractiveness as a concept/term awfully close to physical beauty. Still on the subject of the title change, if Kanazawa were writing about a study that measured the test pool’s responses to fine art, and his working title was “Why are Matisse’s works more beautiful than Cezanne’s”, it would be a no-brainer to change the title to “Why are Matisse’s works rated as more beautiful than Cezanne’s”. I’m not sure that the same justification operates as strongly in the case of people’s “attractiveness”.

    What I understand to be Kanazawa’s concept/usage of attractiveness -as a (measurable) tendency to trigger an attraction response in others – does not strike me as an obviously unreasonable or counterintuitive one.

  13. Rob, I am sorry you brought these distracting readings to this blog. Neither of the (wnite?) men is able to confront the very serious issue of. Racism that is being raised about the research. Instead, one person thinks the question is worth raising and the other receives an F inphilosophy of science for thinking that a psychology experiment that is inconcictent with fundamental physics wasn’t given fair treatment.

    The original article purports to show something about members of a pseudocategory and presents it as independent of the very racist culture in which the data was gathered. As it is put at Colorlines:
    Now, Kanazawa didn’t base his baseless invective on the thousands of survey responses. Instead, he looked at how researchers rated the appearance of the adolescents and later the adults taking the survey. Here’s how he explains the data he used:

    “At the end of each interview, the interviewer rates the physical attractiveness of the respondent objectively on the following five-point scale: 1=very unattractive, 2= unattractive, 3=about average, 4=attractive, 5=very attractive. The physical attractiveness of each Add Health respondent is measured three times by three different interviewers over seven years.”

    I’m confused about how these data are objective. Did some bias-free robots from the utopian ether descend upon each testing site to perform this portion of the evaluation? Or were the interviewers human beings, subject to the same racism, sexism, ablelism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, fat phobia and whateverthehellelsephobia that undergirds beauty standards?

  14. JJ, why do the individual interviewers have to be bias-free (whatever that means)?

    As I ventured earlier, physical attractiveness in the context of the study seems simply to refer to a tendency of physical appearance to trigger an attraction response in others. In order for that tendency to be measured, the raters don’t have to be “bias-free” either individually or in the aggregate. Don’t they just have to respond honestly about whether and how much attraction they experience? The extent to which the results can be explained by racism is a question worth asking, and Kanazawa doesn’t. But why does that possibility screw up the data, any more than it would necessarily screw up the data in a study of which political candidates are most popular?

  15. I think it is a pretty stupid sort of thing to study. I believe that it is pretty well established that people “like” what is familiar to them, starting as infants with their care-givers’ faces. You want to go toward things that are familiar and have good feeling associated with them. What people find attractive tells you more about them than it tells you about what they are attracted to or repelled by.

    Anyhow I think it is fairly well known that some of the most beautiful women in the world come from East Africa (Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, etc.) Think of Iman.

  16. Nemo, please! The interviewers don’t have to be bias free unless you want to report their reactions as though they were evidence about anything other than them and their biases. The fault is in how the conclusions were drawn.

  17. JJ, you might want to scroll to the bottom of Mill’s piece and look at the link he has provided to an independent analysis of the Add Health data set by another PT blogger, Scott Barry Kaufman.

  18. JJ, then perhaps you understand him to have concluded something different from what I understood him to have concluded. I’ve already explained why I read objective physical attractiveness to be referring here to nothing more than the relative tendency of one person’s appearance to produce an actual attraction response in others (regardless of the reasons for it). He doesn’t seem to mean here “what an unbiased evaluator would be attracted to”.

    I think the problem is at least partly semantic. By way of illustration I’ll go back to the example of the popularity of political candidates. “Popularity” can be conceived as nominally a property of the candidate – “Smith is popular”, or “Smith is more popular than Jones”. However, it’s really more a function of the perceived correspondence of the candidate to the most commonly held preferences of other people. So “Smith is popular” does not solely, and perhaps not even principally, convey a statement about Smith – and popularity poll data are in an important sense data about *other* people.

    In a similar way, even “objective” attractiveness within K’s meaning – is a function of the ratee’s correspondence to the prevailing preferences of the raters. I don’t think K asserts the contrary, and if you understand his terms I don’t think his statements purport to be about the ratees except in the qualified sense that our hypothetical pollster’s statement that “Smith is more popular than Jones” purports to be about Smith. I don’t recall anything in K’s conclusion that denies that the data are (in the important sense you’ve identified) data about the *raters*. And I’m not sure he draws a conclusion (again, if his terms are understood) that is only valid if the raters are unbiased – any more than a conclusion that “Smith is more popular than Jones” requires an unbiased public in order to be valid.

  19. In his analysis of the Add Health data, Scott Barry Kaufman refers to a recent study on sex differences in evaluation of facial skin color. This anthropologist, who specializes in sex differences in human complexion, appears to interpret the findings of that study along the lines articulates by Nemo.

  20. the folks at add health own that the attractiveness they are measuring is rather subjective, yet correlates with “important health and social outcomes.” that was not even remotely what kanazawa concluded. in the version of the article i read, he concluded that since “black” people have more testosterone than people of other races (evidence for which was not provided), this would make black women less attractive, objectively, than women of other races. he didn’t simply say, “look at this data set that tends to rate black women as less attractive. huh. i wonder why this could be.” he concluded that this had an evolutionary basis, because black people (a category he never defines) are, evolutionarily (scientifically?) speaking, backwards. this is scientific racism at the most basic level, not telling hard truths, or “scientific fundamentalism,” and not, it seems to me, simple semantics.

    you can see the add health researchers’ response at the newapps blog, btw.

  21. Damn, sk, I thought MY recollections of MY first year classes was bad!!

    Doesn’t dumbass remember that we’re all evolutionarily descended from Africans? Or does he just mean the contemporary populations who are immune to malaria and prone to lactose intolerance? I know, not drinking milk makes a person ‘backwards’, right? PFFT!!!

    Again, WHAT FRIKKIN CEREAL BOX DID THIS GUY PULL HIS DEGREE OUT OF?!? Pull Kanazawa’s funding! Get him off the net!!

  22. And man, couldn’t we all draw some sensational conclusions about testosterone and ‘backwardness’ in males… but WE were listening to OUR first year profs’ lectures on testing and verifying hypotheses before making a blanket statement about a specific group of people!

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