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November 23, 2004

John Derbyshire's mystery guest

Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum are skeptical about John Derbyshire's latest NRO article, The Swelling Wave. And John Holbo is filled with righteous fury.

Derbyshire fears that political correctness is thwarting computational genomics. He has glimpsed a tumescent wave of knowledge gathering offshore--knowledge of the human genome, including explosive secrets of race, sex, and human nature itself. But scheming liberals are already building levees to stop this surging tsunami from spewing its frothy white memes of enlightenment all over the beachhead.

Derbyshire supports his case with a charming anecdote about a mysterious stranger: A nice young man Derbyshire met on the internet dropped by the other day. They had a few drinks and looked at a few interesting websites. The charming young man took Derbyshire to dinner. Then everything got really dark:

This guest was a young man, mid-20s I would guess, very energetic and fast-talking, very smart. He is a researcher at a famous university, in a field that is new: computational genomics. I'll talk about that in a minute. I can't give you his name, because he doesn't want it given. He keeps his identity well hidden, in fact. Even his website offers no clues, though there are usually ways to find out the ownership of a website. He: "I can't afford to be known. There are people out there trying to find out who I am — people who mean me no good, people who could wreck my career. I'm not going to let that happen." [Emphasis added.]

So far, so good. A shadowy figure has complained to a major conservative columnist that people would be out to get him if they knew about him.

Derbyshire presses on:

"What about a cure for Alzheimer's?" I ask my guest. My Dad died from Alzheimer's, and it's a thing I worry about. I had read that some genetic research was going on.

The datanaut shook his head. "Tricky. Dangerous. Alzheimer's correlates with IQ, you see. Also has different incidence among different races..." He laughed. "Once researchers know that, they go find something else to work on. The state our science is in right now, there's plenty of low-hanging fruit. No need to go committing professional suicide."

Alarming stuff. PubMed reveals that hundreds of Alzheimers researchers are in danger.** An entire genetics lab at Duke is at risk. These foolhardy folks appear to be publishing research about Alzheimers, race, and genetics in widely-read journals under their real names. Didn't anybody warn them?

**Search terms: "Alzheimer's" and "gene"


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More conservative's Penthouse Forum. Mystery men who confirm everything conservatives want to believe but have to remain anonymous to protect themselves from liberal goon squads. These folks are usually found driving taxi cabs or writing letters to Andrew Sullivan.

Safire's stable of Mystery Men is up for grabs, I hear.

I don't know, I think Derbyshire may have something here. I know that my Canadian girlfriend raised many of the same concerns the last time we talked aboot this subject.

Derbyshire's computational genomics spiel is pretentious and intellectually dishonest. He implies that the entire field is being stifled for fear of stumbling onto some inconvenient fact about race. That's patently false. Some genetic research programs are controversial. But I seriously doubt the forces of political correctness are threatening Alzheimer's disease researchers.

Every time we refer to the right wingnuts as "conservatives" we do them a favor. Let's come up with something more accurate and honest. Regressives, perhaps?

Alarming stuff. PubMed reveals that hundreds Alzheimers researchers are in danger.

Yeah, exactly. But how many readers of NRO even know that PubMed exhists?

Ah, political correctness in genetics. Forget the glory, the elevation of the human condition and the untold profits ro be reaped. Political correctness is what has kept us from a cure for Alzheimers. Just so you know.

John Derbyshire is a crackpot, failed mathematician who is one bad week away from becoming another Ted Kaczynski.

"Derbyshire's computational genomics spiel is pretentious and intellectually dishonest."

Assuming this is aimed at me, all I can say is that I agree. I never meant to imply otherwise, or poke fun at anyone other than Derbyshire, but rather intended to make an alternative formulation of the idea that like the proverbial Canadian girlfriend, our friend the datanaut is most likely apocryphal.

I didn't mean to aim at you. I admit, I didn't get the joke the first time around. Sorry.

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