“This Research Suggests Why Historians Have to Begin Acknowledging that Biology Is a Key Factor in a Person’s Politics” | History News Network

Two political scientists, John R. Hibbing and Kevin B. Smith, propose that historians acknowledge “that biology is a key factor in a person’s politics.” There has been a lot of recent research that confirms this. But the real issue is not whether historians should acknowledge these findings (they should if the evidence supports them), it is whether or not this knowledge is useful to them in understanding the past. I’m not convinced that it is. While history may be useful in confirming (or dis-confirming) the pattern of conflicts “between innovation and tradition, between stability and progress” that is an expression of these biological predispositions, it offers little help to the historian in understanding particular historical events. And it may even lead us to misleading and false conclusions without any tools, beyond a person’s behavior, to determine someone’s biological predispositions. Given the type of evidence that we have, a person’s social, cultural, and political environment is more useful  when it comes to understanding human motivations and behaviors.

This is not to dismiss the grow body of evidence that supports a biological component in human politics as useless. But it seems to be more relevant for human behavior today. This knowledge may be useful to changing human behavior, if it leads us to recognize that “[p]eople are different; they experience the world differently; they do not see, feel, and sense identical stimuli in the same way.” An appreciation of this could possibly “soften the edges of political disputes that are so detrimental.” One can only hope!

History News Network | This Research Suggests Why Historians Have to Begin Acknowledging that Biology Is a Key Factor in a Person’s Politics.

republican and democratic brain

Social Darwinism: “When Libertarianism Became an Excuse for Plutocrats” Part II, History News Network

In part II of his series on libertarianism, Richard Striner reviews the role of Social Darwinism. Before delving into the history Striner reminds his audience that “Darwin himself —— a fervent humanitarian and opponent of slavery —— got a bum rap in this association, since he neither coined the term ‘survival of the fittest’ nor advocated a social system based upon ruthless competition. Both the term ‘survival of the fittest’ and the doctrine of dog-eat-dog competition were promulgated by the British philosopher Herbert Spencer.” It is unfortunate that Darwin’s name became associated with this movement, because it has led to so much confusion about Darwin and his theory of natural selection. The movement should be called “Social Lamarckianism” since it was Lamarck’s theory that was the basis for Spencer’s theory that became known as Social Darwinism. But Darwin’s name was much more useful than the long forgotten Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). [For a great book on the relationship between Darwin’s theory of natural selection and the subsequent rise of Neo-Lamarckianism see Peter J. Bowler’s The Eclipse of Darwinism.]
After reviewing this history my students still get this wrong on their exams. The belief that Darwin came up with both Social Darwinism and the term “survival of the fittest” persists no matter how many time I remind my students that it was Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), after all Darwin’s name is in the title!
Read part II of Stringer’s series here:

History News Network | When Libertarianism Became an Excuse for Plutocrats.

Herbert Spencer

Herbert Spencer, proponent of Social Darwinism who coined the phrase “survival of the fittest”

“Could Scientists Be Wrong About Global Warming?” | History News Network

Using examples from the history of science Dr. James Powell explains why it is unlikely that climate scientists are wrong about global warming. However his final consideration is probably the most apropos in the current debate over climate change: the possibility “that scientists are deliberately wrong, engaged in a global conspiracy,” and concludes that “this notion, [is] the intellectual equivalent of believing that the Earth is flat or that men did not land on the Moon. To claim conspiracy is to prefer a blatant absurdity over scientific fact and only because accepting global warming does not happen to suit people. But the implacable laws of science remain unaffected by what suits us.”

Read his useful review of the history of mistaken theories in science:

History News Network | Could Scientists Be Wrong About Global Warming?

polar bear

“The Hoax of Climate Denial” | History News Network

Naomi Oreskes, historian of science, discusses her experience testifying before the Committee on Natural Resources last month. She explains, “In preparing my testimony, however, I realized that something far larger was at stake: the issue of politically driven science itself.  It’s often claimed that environmental science done in federal agencies is “politically driven” and therefore suspect.  It was, I realized, time to challenge the presumption that such science is bad science. While widely held, the idea is demonstrably false. Moreover, the suggestion that “government science” is intrinsically problematic for Republicans who eschew big government ignores the simple fact that most of the major contributions of the twentieth century, at least in the physical sciences, came from just such government science.”
Besides defending “government science,” Oreskes reviews the history of the current climate denialism, as well as the political and economic forces that are driving it. Read her important exposé here:

History News Network | The Hoax of Climate Denial.

Merchants of Doubt

What the collapse of ancient capitals can teach us about the cities of today | Cities | The Guardian

Based on the work of the archaeologist Roland Fletcher, Srinath Perur warns us that we may suffer the same fate as “Tikal, Angkor and Anuradhapura.” These ancient cities  collapsed “after thriving for more than a millennium.” And despite the fact that they “were very different cities in their geography, environment and social and political functioning…they all had operational similarities: extensive land clearance, sprawling low-density settlement patterns, massive infrastructure – all of which are attributes of modern cities. The extended infrastructure of Angkor and Tikal proved vulnerable to a changing climate, something else that may be upon us.”

What the collapse of ancient capitals can teach us about the cities of today | Cities | The Guardian.


The global warming hoax – My Journal Courier – myjournalcourier.com

“Who believes politicians paid by ExxonMobil instead of scientists, doctors and conservationists? Gullible people who want to believe. That’s what makes hoaxes work.” The historian Steve Hochstadt reviews the history of science hoaxes and compares them to the current “global warming hoax.” There is an important difference between the two: the previous hoaxes were debunked by scientists, whereas the current “hoax” is supposedly being perpetrated by the scientific community. This fact in and of itself should invite skepticism of the claims of those who cry “hoax.”

The global warming hoax – My Journal Courier – myjournalcourier.com.


Transcripts Kept Secret for 60 Years Bolster Defense of Oppenheimer’s Loyalty – NYTimes.com

This is great news! It confirms that the attack on Oppenheimer was politically motivated. He was a victim of the Red Scare. Even without this evidence it seemed unlikely that Oppenheimer was not a spy.  It was clear that he was targeted simply because he opposed the hydrogen bomb. The whole affair was shameful!!

Transcripts Kept Secret for 60 Years Bolster Defense of Oppenheimer’s Loyalty – NYTimes.com.