Sinned against, not sinning

June 16, 2011

We believe the recent criticisms of Satoshi Kanazawa's work cannot be justified ("Damage limitation: evolutionary psychologists turn on controversial peer", 2 June). Contrary to the assertion that Kanazawa does poor work, he has published 70 articles in peer-reviewed journals in the fields of psychology, sociology, political science, biology and medicine. These are listed on his London School of Economics web page and many of them have been published in top high-impact journals.

The critics assert that many of these papers are "bad science" and have been published only as a result of a faulty peer-review process. This cannot be accepted. The editors of journals send the papers submitted to them to reviewers with expertise in the fields in question and publish only those that are deemed to be sound. Thus, all of Kanazawa's papers have been judged as sound by competent reviewers. Others may disagree, and in the case of innovative papers of the kind Kanazawa writes, frequently do. Time eventually tells whether the authors or their detractors are right.

The critics complain that when Kanazawa has a paper rejected by one journal, he sends it to another and publishes it there. Who among the academy's members has not done that? Reviewers frequently misjudge a paper and editors accept their recommendations. The author then sends it elsewhere and it is accepted. If there were anything wrong with this practice, then, as the first online comment under "Damage limitation" puts it: "A few Nobel prizes will have to be returned."

The detractors assert that Kanazawa rarely responds to brickbats. On the contrary, we believe that while he sometimes does not respond immediately, he frequently deals with criticisms in his subsequent work.

For example, in respect to the criticisms made by Columbia University's Andrew Gelman about his paper reporting that physically more attractive parents are more likely to have daughters, Kanazawa replicated his earlier finding with a different dataset from a different nation, and published the replication in the Reproductive Sciences journal earlier this year.

Kanazawa even sought Gelman's comments on the draft and the Columbia academic's contribution is acknowledged in the published paper.

Kanazawa's 2010 American Psychologist article also responds to many of the criticisms that were levelled against his 2004 Psychological Review article.

Finally, we believe that the proper place to make criticisms of academic papers is in the journals in which they were published, not in letters to the press where they cannot be adequately answered.

Alex Beaujean, department of psychology, Baylor University

Christopher Brand, department of psychology, University of Edinburgh (1970-1997)

Bruce Charlton, department of psychology, University of Buckingham

Eric Crampton, department of economics, University of Canterbury

Aurelio José Figueredo, department of psychology, University of Arizona

Gordon G. Gallup, Jr., department of psychology, State University of New York

Paul Gottfried, department of history, Elizabethtown College

Henry Harpending, department of anthropology, University of Utah

Richard Lynn, department of psychology, University of Ulster

Kevin MacDonald, department of psychology, California State University

Gerhard Meisenberg, department of biochemistry, Ross University Medical School

Michael E. Mills, department of psychology, Loyola Marymount University

Helmuth Nyborg, department of psychology, Aarhus University

Byron Roth, department of psychology, Dowling College, New York

J. Philippe Rushton, department of psychology, University of Western Ontario

Stephen Rushton, College of Education, University of South Florida

Donald Templer (retired), department of psychology, Alliant International University

James Thompson, department of psychology, University College London, UK

Birgitta Tullberg, department of evolutionary ecology, Stockholm University

Fredrik Ullén, department of cognitive neuroscience, Karolinska Institute

Tatu Vanhanen, department of political science, University of Tampere

Erich Weede, department of sociology, University of Bonn

Predrag Zarevski, department of psychology, University of Zagreb

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Reader's comments (1)

I cannot but agree w the last paragraph, to wit: "Finally, we believe that the proper place to make criticisms of academic papers is in the journals in which they were published, not in letters to the press where they cannot be adequately answered." Adding that withdrawing the article in question is a case in point... as well as a dubious act of censorship, w the result that readers may not judge on their own because deprived of the arguments comprehensively presented originally. Finally, Dr Kanazawa's apology is mitigated, to say the least, by his cleverly fuzzy "terms of consent" to faulty argumentation. One may conclude he is publicly true to himself as much as self-preservation permits him to be. NB: He had already written an article stating unequivocally that if truth offends, it is science's duty to offend. It was very recently announced that another scientist, James Watson, has been divested of all his hefty honours (including a Nobel Prize?) due to racially-oriented conclusions regarding race & IQ.