Get Satoshi Kanazawa out of LSE and off Psychology Today

I’ve written about this genius before (here or elsewhere or somewhere). He’s an evolutionary psychologist from the London School of Economics (LSE) – one of the top universities in the UK – and he writes, a lot, for Psychology Today. Now, Psychology Today is not, by any stretch of any imagination, a reliable academic source but it does have readership. It’s probably the best feeder of pop-psychology around at the moment.

I’m not a fan of evolutionary psychology. I don’t like its reductivist approach in making everything about sex. Because that’s what it does, when you strip off the big words. The boys have sperm, the girls have eggs, the boys want the girls but the girls need the boys and then a whole host of things happen that bring us where we are today. One of my very favourite colleagues does a bit of evolutionary psychology, and he argues it well, but I just don’t agree with the premise or the implications. No more than I agree with any of the offensive, sexist, racist, ill-informed claptrap that  Satoshi Kanazawa is known for on Psychology Today. (Not that I am equating my lovely colleague with Kanazawa, of course).  His latest stint involved a piece which was entitled “Why are Black women less physically attractive than other women?” Yeah. Seriously.

The piece was met with uproar, naturally, and was removed from the site almost immediately. (It doesn’t even deserve a critique but if you’re interesting in reading one anyway, you can find an interesting post here on Sociological Images.) Since then,, a petition site, started a petition demanding that Psychology Today stops publishing sexist and racist articles and explains why  Kanazawa’s piece was published initially. (If you were cynical of mind and suspected that it was published because it’s good for site traffic, you may not be wrong.) The peititon also called for the removal of Kanazawa as a contributor to the site. And not before time. Indeed, since then, the student body of  LSE have called for Kanazawa to be sacked. He is not doing that institution, or the academy, any favours at all.

Two weeks after the offending article, Psychology Today issued an “apology”. It’s very sorry indeed if anyone was offended by the article. (Read: we’re not saying the article was offensive but if you were offended then I suppose we’re sorry. But you should probably be less sensitive.) It’s not good enough. Kanazawa is still listed as a contributer and Psychology Today did not address any of the on-going issues with his pieces, choosing instead to pretend that this piece was an isolated incident. Please sign the petition to keep the pressure on Psychology Today to address this problem properly. Its claim that it doesn’t support the publication of racist or sexist pieces is disingenuous when it had to remove a piece for exactly those problems. We have to put up with, “I’m not racist/ sexist but…” in too many places on the Internet and we shouldn’t have to put up with it on a “academic” site too.

Psychology Today is probably hoping that this will turn out to be a storm in the teacup (and, sadly, it probably will for there’s a lot of -isms around and eventually we’ll have to move on to the next one) but it really, really shouldn’t be allowed to wait it out and get that moron Kanazawa back on the front page again next week.

5 responses to “Get Satoshi Kanazawa out of LSE and off Psychology Today

  1. I haven’t read the article, so I will reserve any comments. I will however share this piece wherein an Asian American studies Scholar at UCSB comments on perhaps a poorly written and highly biased piece by Wesley Yang that was published in the New York Magazine. Initial piece: Original article: it sparked an interesting discussion (on facebook no less). I wonder why there hasn’t been a similar outcry of racism.

  2. There probably is some decent research to be had in gender differences in psychology. There are plenty of physical differences like size and body shape, hormones, development, etc and some glaringly obvious (and also some subtle) sociological differences in the way society treats the genders. The same goes for race though the physical differences are unsurprisingly only skin deep. I find it a pity that bias gets in the way of decent, academic research. Worse still there seems to be a habit in popular science magazines to sensationalize a story out of all proportion. Perhaps among the test group there was a tendency to find the black woman less attractive but is that conclusive? Was the test group biased in some way or too small so the results were skewed? Even if the science is sound are the headlines appropriate (clearly not) and do they convey the conclusions of the study accurately (I doubt it)? How does the science further our understanding of the human mind and what conclusions can we draw from it? What evidence counters these conclusions and is there research to thoroughly test the ideas expressed?

    Of course not, this is popular science and they thrive on headlines and sales figures, not evidence and tentative conclusions that are subject to change. They want sensation and argument because that is what sells. More’s the pity.

    On the topic of evolutionary psychology the flaw that I see in it is that explanations of gamete transfer as justifications for the way we act are “just so” stories unless they are backed up with some pretty compelling evidence. I don’t doubt for a moment that evolution is responsible for…well everything… in our psychological make up but it is far too often used in a slapdash way to explain why men like boobs or somesuch.

    Evolution is about biology anyway and doesn’t begin to cover the social conditioning that we undergo throughout our entire lives. All it tells you is that you have a brain that fires in certain ways and can be tricked in certain ways. It doesn’t tell us why some gentlemen prefer blonds or why some ladies prefer tall, dark strangers (not stereotypes at all, eh?). It might tap into the biological origins of such preferences but that is no more conclusive that pointing out that basketball players are genetically predisposed to playing basketball because they are tall. Not all tall people play basketball and not all basketball players are tall.

    • Any research that aims to use one process (biological, psychological, sociological) to explain attitudes, behaviours, opinions, etc. is limited. Unfortunately academics can be very precious and defensive about their philosophical orientation, and I have been guilty of that myself. The difference between me and this clown, though, is that I am at least willing to admit the potential limitations of my research studies. Too many academics don’t know how to that…

  3. Pingback: In brief: Satoshi Kanazawa removed from Psychology Today « tenderhooligan·

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