Saturday, November 23, 2013

Cleansing the scientific literature

 Morten Østergaard, Danish Minister for Research, Innovation, and Higher Education (source: VicVal). Morten, if you’re reading this post, please reply to my e-mail.

I first learned about Danish psychologist Helmuth Nyborg while working on my doctoral thesis. In those pre-Internet days, I plodded my way through the academic literature largely by consulting the Science Citation Index and then pulling bound journals off library shelves. This was how I encountered Dr. Nyborg, or rather his studies on hormones and behavior.

As early as the late 1980s, he began to take an interest in “human biodiversity,” i.e., the belief that heritable mental and behavioral traits differ among human populations just as they do among individuals. At the time, I had an attitude of friendly skepticism, being still influenced by the belief that cultural evolution had replaced genetic evolution way back in the Pleistocene. Only later did I learn that cultural evolution had actually accelerated the pace of genetic evolution (Hawks et al., 2007).

In recent years, Dr. Nyborg has turned his attention to the demographic changes that are sweeping through Western Europe and his own country. In this, he has acted not just as an academic who wishes to understand reality, but also as a Danish citizen who is concerned about his country’s future. What will Denmark look like half a century from now? Will it still be recognizably Danish? Will it still be functioning as a modern society with a high quality of life?

On the basis of population projections, he concluded that ethnic Danes will become a minority in their own country, the tipping point being sometime in the late 21st century. In addition, the Danish population will no longer be able to provide the standard of living that Danes have long been used to. Denmark will cease to be a First World country.

His study made the following points:

- Contrary to official statistics, immigrant birth rates are not falling. In fact, they have been rising since 1980 and were over twice the ethnic Danish birth rate in 2009. Meanwhile, the ethnic Danish birth rate has been falling since 1995 and reached a new low of 9.31 in 2009.

- After rising for half a century, average national IQ began to fall in 1997. This decline has also been observed in Norway, even though average IQ has continued to rise elsewhere (in line with the Flynn effect).

- By 2050, less than one fifth of the population will have IQs in the 90 to 104 range, whereas over half will have IQs in the 70 to 85 range. Primary schools will mainly have low IQ children of sub-Saharan, Middle Eastern, North African, Latin American, and Caribbean backgrounds.

- By 2072, ethnic Danes will have fallen to 60% of the population and 33% of all births. They will become a minority around 2085.

This study was met with much criticism. Unfortunately, not content with making their views known in academic forums, three people complained to the Danish Committee for Scientific Dishonesty. The committee ruled that two of their complaints were justified: “the defendant had committed scientific dishonesty by appearing as the sole author of an article and by including a reference which did not support the data it indicated to support.” The committee also ruled that Dr. Nyborg must withdraw his study from the scientific literature.

The two complaints seem to me weird. Yes, another person had contributed to the study, but he had specifically requested that his contribution remain anonymous. The second complaint is a bit more valid. Dr. Nyborg had not explained how he had converted his fertility rate data into birth rate data. Nonetheless, he corrected that shortcoming by having an addendum published in a subsequent issue of the journal.

I was initially stumped by the ruling that Dr. Nyborg must withdraw his study from the scientific literature. How can one withdraw an already published study? Then the penny dropped. Most journals are now published online, and cash-strapped university libraries have been phasing out their paper subscriptions. So it’s quite easy to “disappear” a published study.

I e-mailed the following letter to the Danish minister responsible for this committee:

Morten Østergaard, Minister for Research, Innovation, and Higher Education

Subject: Decision that Helmuth Nyborg must withdraw a published paper from the international scientific literature

Dear Mr. Østergaard:

I have known Dr. Nyborg for many years. He is much appreciated in the international academic community and has published on many subjects, some of which are controversial. Recently, the Danish Committee for Scientific Dishonesty has ruled that Dr. Nyborg must withdraw a published article from the international scientific literature. In my opinion, this kind of ruling is unprecedented and should not go unchallenged.

Scientific papers are published with a view to provoking debate. If other scholars consider a paper to be "dishonest," they are free to write a letter to the journal of that paper and, normally, such letters will be published in a subsequent issue. They are also free to denounce the paper at conferences or in their own published papers. That is how the system works, and to date it has worked very well.

But no one has the right to delete a paper once it has been published. The paper no longer belongs solely to its author. It also belongs to the international academic community. It is part of the marketplace of ideas. Yes, in the past, certain governments would try to remove books, articles, and papers from circulation. Police officers would go into bookstores, libraries, and publishing houses and literally remove the offending publications from the shelves. Must I state the obvious? Such governments were totalitarian. They were either communist or fascist.

Yes, thanks to electronic publishing of academic journals, it is much easier to delete a published paper. But that does not change the rightness or wrongness of the act. Your ministry is acting in a way that is morally wrong. Not technically wrong. Morally wrong. This decision is an offence not just to the Danish academic community, but also to the international academic community.

Please, think long and hard about the implications of this decision.  

Yours sincerely,

Peter Frost, Ph.D. 

Université Laval
Quebec City, Canada

I resisted the temptation to write something like: “I disagree with what he says, but I defend his right to say it.” That goes without saying. Just as physicians must swear the Hippocratic Oath, academics are supposed to defend the marketplace of ideas.  

I will say more in my next post. In the meantime, I encourage others, especially other academics, to denounce this decision by e-mailing Morten Østergaard (


Hawks, J., E.T. Wang, G.M. Cochran, H.C. Harpending, and R.K. Moyzis. (2007). Recent acceleration of human adaptive evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, 104(52), 20753–20758. 

Nyborg, H. (2011). The decay of Western civilization: Double relaxed Darwinian Selection. Personality and Individual Differences, 53, 118-125.


J said...

Scientific papers are published with a view to provoking debate.

I thought the idea was to advance knowledge.

Provocation is no science.

I'd like to know how he extrapolated demographic data two or three generations ahead.

Beyond Anon said...

Provocation is no science.

Clearly you have not heard of Lysenko. Consensus is not science.

I'd like to know how he extrapolated demographic data two or three generations ahead.

Need I suggest that you read the paper?

Glossy said...

"I'd like to know how he extrapolated demographic data two or three generations ahead."

Would you like to address the same question to the UN? Here's a publication of theirs called "World Population to 2300". Here are the World Bank's population projections till 2050. Population projections are quite common. I'm under the impression that most countries' statistics ministries do them.

Normally statisticians either extrapolate from current trends or try to predict how these trends will change in the future.

Glossy said...

"Provocation is no science."

Science cannot move forward without free inquiry. The forced removal of already-published articles from scientific literature impedes free inquiry. It's retroactive censorship. It's very likely that the motivation for this was political. That makes it worse.

Dennis Mangan said...

Kudos for writing this, Peter.

J said...

Regarding long term population projections, there is a difference between projecting large long-settled populations and small groups of recent immigrants to the Denmark. Like Turks in Germany, the second generation behaves reproductively like the natives.

BTW, UN projections come in several levels: high, low, etc. and the reasons and estimated probabilities are well explained.

Second, if the idea was to provoke debate, it was not presented as such but as scientific research. It should have concluded that immigration must be stopped or something like that, which is a legitimate political position, and not to camouflage itself as a scientific research paper. A scientist can be wrong, but must have, above all, integrity.

Mike Steinberg said...

I would suggest also emailing your letter to Danish newspapers and journalists. Let them know that from the outside it appears they appear to be becoming totalitarian.

Others might want to look at posting on Danish blogs.

I'd also recommend Dr James Thompson's posts on the matter.

A commenter notes Steven Pinker's defense of Nyborg a few years ago in relation to gender differences.

"letter Pinker wrote in his defense a couple of years ago:

I am writing to protest the shocking and disgraceful treatment of Dr. Helmuth Nyborg following publication of his report on possible gender differences in average IQ scores. Dr. Nyborg may be mistaken, but the issue he is addressing is a factual one, and can only be evaluated by an open examination of the evidence. To “investigate” him, shut down his research, or otherwise harass him because his findings are politically incorrect is unworthy of an institution dedicated to the understanding of reality. It is reminiscent of the persecution of Galileo, the crippling of Soviet science and agriculture under Lysenko, and the attempt of the American religious right wing to inhibit the teaching of evolution in the schools.

No one has the right to legislate the truth. It can only be discovered by free inquiry, and that includes investigations that may make people uncomfortable. This is the foundation of liberal society, and it is threatened by attempts to interfere with Dr. Nyborg and his research. If he is incorrect, that will be established by a community of scholars who examine his evidence and arguments and criticize them in open forums of debate, not by the exercise of force to prevent him from pursuing his research. These are the tactics of a police state, and bring shame on any institution that uses them."

Bones and Behaviours said...

Bias is rife and expected on campus but there is light at the end of the tunnel for human biodiversity researchers like Nyborg bcause thankfully the age of the old, expensive brick and mortar universities is coming to an end. Although society might find them useful for disseminating its approved worldviews but, for better or for worse, cost effectiveness is what counts the most to the people who actually matter.

Without brick and mortar universities the political bias would have to evaporate because interpersonal contact is necessary to maintain the bias in two ways.
The first way involves contact between the impressionable students and certain radicalised professors who are out to promote agendas to them. Besides this creepy, grooming-like behavior (some professors actually sleep with their students despite the power imbalance) the second method is the purposeful creation of a biased atmosphere so that student activism is tolerated only if it is directed towards pre-approved causes that some have called 'Cultural Marxist' - that is, anti-racism, homosexual and transgender rights, pro-choice feminism etc.

Not long ago I read a paper on the attitudes of college (ie. university) students in the USA and not surprisingly young people holding certain political or social views are more likely to drop out of college. This naturally leads to an atypical skewing of attitudes among university students and graduates - the people with the degrees required to be affect the direction of society, with the outcome that American graduates are so out of touch. Although universities are supposed to uphold diversity there is no measure taken to counter this for the exact same reason they would crack down on students holding a harmless 'White Pride day'.

Once the real life universities are converted to housing those people will no longer be able to abuse their position as a means to indoctrinate young students with politics, let alone purposefully manage and uphold on purpose such a hostile atmosphere.

Sean said...

Paul Collier "specialist in the political, economic and developmental predicaments of poor countries": Exodus- Migration from poor to rich countries accelerates. Equilibrium will not be reached for 100 years. The single most important reason for immigration is the existence of diasporas. The poorest counties are going to empty of those who can afford the investment to leave. The diaspora lowers all costs of immigration. Hence acceleration. 40% in poor countries say they want to leave.

Sean said...

"ACCORDING to Morten Østergaard, Danish Minister for Science, Innovation and Higher Education, social sciences and the humanities play a very important part in our search of solutions to current and future societal challenges.
- In order to develop solutions to large challenges of society, such as for instance climate changes or an older population, we need knowledge about our society and about human behaviour and interaction from different perspectives."

In April 2009 James Lovelock gave a lecture in Dublin. In it he said that most countries would be uninhabitable by 2100; that billions would head for Ireland and Britain The Irish and British would have to kill the climate change migrants to repel the invasion. Helmuth Nyborg predicted a change in his country's circumstances. James Lovelock did something similar, and then went much further inasmuch as he actually talked about the inevitability of mass killing of those attempting to immigrate into Britain.

Sean said...

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

Anonymous said...

Evoandproud, What do you think of this?

theo the kraut said...

technical trifle: the picture above of Morten Østergaard has ~6MB, though ~60KB should be enough--it's quite a drag on a mobile phone. You might want to resize your online pictures before uploading.

Anonymous said...

Mr Frost,

You wrote,

"I resisted the temptation to write something like: “I disagree with what he says, but I defend his right to say it.” That goes without saying. Just as physicians must swear the Hippocratic Oath, academics are supposed to defend the marketplace of ideas."

I do not comprehend how it "goes without saying" that you "disagree with what he says." Have you written a technical analysis of Nyborg's work and published it elsewhere?

You have assessed the two technical complaints of the Danish committee, so you do not appear to have any remaining objections to Nyborg's work. Is this correct? Are the findings of his research accurate, or not? With what do you disagree?

-Keith Erick Fix

Peter Fros_ said...


Knowledge cannot be advanced without debate. There are cases where new ideas are accepted without debate, but those cases are rare.

A population projection is just that, a projection of current trends. Those trends may change if we become aware of what is happening and make appropriate changes to public policy.

I'll discuss this point in my next post.


Thanks for dropping by!


I sent copies of the e-mail to other people in the Danish government. As for Danish journalists, I don't see them as part of the problem. In fact, they've been a source of ongoing opposition to the government.


I agree that universities can be made leaner, but it's important to have a place where academics can meet each other and socialize. Young people don't go to university simply to get a degree. They also go there to build social networks (and meet members of the opposite sex). University can be both serious and fun.


Yes, that point wasn't incorporated into Nyborg's model. Immigration tends to accelerate once pioneering communities become established.


My initial reaction was negative. Among other things, I don't believe there is Amerindian admixture in Europe. Europeans and Amerindians share a common ancestral population.


I've re-uploaded with a smaller jpg file. This is something I'll have to remember in the future. My post may look fine on my computer, but not necessarily on someone else's.


I'll deal with the merits of Nyborg's paper in my next post. Yes, I disagree with parts of his study, but disagreement doesn't justify censorship.

Bones and Behaviours said...

Regarding the Europa Soberana site, I should stress that although certain phenotypes and traits are locally more common in certain regions and absent in others, such types are not strictly the same thing as races.

Nonetheless if we look at the high percentages of Mongoloid autosomes among the Ainu or the Mamanwa, in spite of them retaining their distinctively non-Mongoloid phenotypes, it helps us to understand how Alpinoid types can still exist in Europe and yet remain so superficially distinct from their Nordic and Mediterranean neighbours, even though the genetic evidence does not demonstrate a vast difference between the neighbouring populations of Europe.

Just as the appearance of the Ainu and Mamanwa peoples demonstrates their descent from non-Mongoloid ancestors, so the phenotype of the modern Alpines is modified from that of pre-Neolithic European populations similar to the Upper Paleolithic Cro-Magnon and the well known Iberomaursian North Africans whose own ancestors had arrived from southern Europe.

There is an obvious reason why the Alpine and related types are so markedly concentrated in the mountains and other remote places such as Lapland.

Anonymous said...

Young people don't go to university simply to get a degree. They also go there to build social networks (and meet members of the opposite sex).

This is a recent development though. Major universities only became co-ed within the past few generations. Women only started attending universities in large numbers recently.

Bones and Behaviours said...

Peter, even if it weren't for the political bias on campus please remember that for many young people going to a real life university is extremely stressful for the same reasons that many gifted people couldn't stand school.

I also think it obvious that anyone praising the social life at university as something beneficial for young adults has their rose tinted spectacles on.

The data from the UK suggests that bullying is as rife as bias in such places, something which comes along with any space where young people are pressured to socialise within artificial groups, and is associated with youth suicides. On top of that is the infamous student lifestyle which is so obnoxious it shouldn't really be tolerated among anyone. Given the well known problems that are caused by drink and promiscuous sex, university life is especially harmful as a social environment for young people whose brains are still growing - a process which continues into peoples twenties. On such grounds I certainly wouldn't want my own children to be surrounded by peer pressure to behave in such a way as soon as they leave home.

Besides the main reason for universities now being political, most students themselves would be better off elsewhere for their own sakes. I actually don't see why no one else is honest about this.

Bones and Behaviours said...

Anonymous, whoever they are (V perhaps?) has just brought up a good point.

Many kids beginning university have experienced overprotective family homes and an upbringing that prevented an earlier and supervised experimentation with relationships or alcohol, before they were effectively dumped into an environment of promiscuity and drunkenness with little to no intervention by authority figures to prevent things going too far.

If the dumbness of co-ed and especially of allowing mixed dorms doesn't prove the point I have just made, then I don't know what would.

Anonymous said...


What's your point regarding climate change and Lovelock?

Also, do you agree with Lovelock's dire predictions?

Sean said...

James Lovelock admits he was 'alarmist' about the impact of climate change. He is an impressive man, but he and the scientists he was basing his predictions on got it wrong.

So what is the difference between academic climate scientists and Nyborg. Why has no-one has called for climate change science papers to be removed and the scientists who wrote them to be disciplined? They used some incorrect calculations in their projections too. Come to think of it has there ever been a scientific journal review article which did not in some sense have "a reference which did not support the data it indicated to support"?

Collier had in interesting little anecdote about going to Haiti after the earthquake to put his ideas into practice. He managed to get people interested in setting up a factory on a site away from the devastation. He was well pleased at being able to help Haitians build up their own country. Then some shy lizards were found and media savvy environmentalist uproar followed.

Environmentalism is a way to show what a nice person you are. Nicer that other whites. Championing non-whites is a way to do this like caring about lizards when white economists are trying to create economic development for Blacks. 'Be be careful not to do your good deeds when there's no one watching you.' And make no mistake, the white elite are going to destroy their people in altruistic competition, because someone is always watching them.

Marshal McLuhan suggested that a medium "overheats", or reverses into an opposing form, when taken to its extreme".

The overheating medium of white altruism is the the real global warming.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand, Lovelock still maintains dire predictions, despite saying that he was a bit alarmist.

BIorealism said...

You can also hit him up on twitter @oestergaard

I've asked him whether he's going to respond to Dr Frost or Dr Thompson and linked their respective letters.

Sean said...

I have no idea whether projections based on the current scientific concensus on climate change (as articulated by Lovelock) are correct. But if projections of global warming research were held to the standard Nyborg's paper has been we would not be hearing anything about the consequences of climate change.

Society does not work like Daisyworld, no socio-political homeostatic correction to population flows can be expected to halt the exodus from poor countries. The driving force in western policy is an altuistic arms race. Symmetrical schismogenesis, or runaway sexual selection if you prefer.

And that is why it is a terrible mistake from that Nyborg's own standpoint to talk about IQ in the way he did. Western intellectuals will veiw it as a naive claim to privileged access.

Anonymous said...

The driving force in western policy is an altuistic arms race. Symmetrical schismogenesis, or runaway sexual selection if you prefer.

This is nonsense of course, unless you're using "altruism" as a euphemism for parasitic castration.

Sean said...

"be careful not to do your good deeds when no one is watching you"

Those environmental activists are saying 'look at me' I'm such a nice person which = good reputation. Altruistic behaviour gets you a good reputation, which gets you what you want. Once western societies moved from low trust to high trust there was an increased need to acquire a good reputation.

If it was parasitic castration people would be altruistic even if it got them a bad reputations. No chance. 99.99 % of people fake it, because someone is watching. It's only the odd person like Lovelock who is for real.

Anonymous I said...

It's drawing to a close. They are forced to wield their authority more and more blatantly because their power is waning. Accusations of racism are gradually becoming passe, and more and more people are realizing that there *is* no way to actually answer the meat of Nyborg's predictions.

Nyborg's problem (and in a way, its a virtue that he has it) is that he is oblivious to the demands of the Zeitgeist. Right now, people are getting wise, but they're not ready to admit that they're wise. That's why, say, Satoshi Kanizawa got stepped on, while, say, Jonathan Haidt didn't. Consider this interview with Haidt...

...and you'll see that Nyborg could have said everything he liked, so long as he had been polite and very slightly cryptic. Our own Peter Frost, incidentally, has this attitude down rather well.

So I believe that we could all stand to practice a bit more subtlety - especially since they have already lost. The science is in, and now that we live in the age of the Internet, they can't stop the science getting out. After all, considering that we've all quietly saved our personal copy of Nyborg's article, how many more people do you think will read it once it has been officially disappeared? None? Oh, how they wish.

Bones and Behaviours said...

The comment about the age of the internet is spot on and the rise of 'SWJs'(social justice warriors) - officially approved online bullies - is suspicious for that reason.

The internet undermined the familiar two-step seen in the mainstream media by allowing dissident opinions a wider audience, then along came SWJs harassing sanctioned targets in an attempt to silence people outside of the old two-step.

It looks like someone is playing dirty.

Peter Fros_ said...

"so long as he had been polite and very slightly cryptic. Our own Peter Frost, incidentally, has this attitude down rather well."

You're half-right. I believe in politeness, if only because it forces one's opponent to be the jack-ass.

On the other hand, I write what I believe, and I believe what I write.

Anonymous I said...

"I write what I believe, and I believe what I write."

I never meant to imply otherwise! Still, I do find you very slightly cryptic. One has to read through a few of your posts on the same topic to realize where your points and values are. Under circumstances I'm more accustomed to, clarity, conciseness, and economy of words serve an author better - but I no longer believe that to be the case in the soft sciences.

Anonymous said...

I love controversial, if it's intelligent. But this is bad science, because a "Darwinian" paper should not invoke non-Darwinian standard of IQ. When using standard IQ, one should know that average IQ in a poopulation is the best Darwinian IQ to have, as the lowest and highest have the least reproductive success. In short, the IQ test should be restructured in evolutionary terms. This Dane reminds me of Geoffrey Miller (even looks like him), an evolutionary psychologist who mostly doesnt know what he's talking about.