Thomas Wictor

Junk science to make you hate yourself

Junk science to make you hate yourself

Mother Jones is out with an article titled “The Science of Your Racist Brain,” by Indre Viskontas (not Indrid Cold) and Chris Mooney. It’s absolutely hilarious. More junk science to make you hate yourself for being irredeemably evil.

The article initially differentiates between “explicit racists” like Donald Sterling and “implicit racists”—all white people. According to the work of New York University Associate Professor of Psychology and Neural Science David Amodio, every one of you Caucasians is racist. There are podcast interviews with Amodio, but I didn’t listen to them because he looks like this.


I can’t learn a thing from a forty-year-old that vain, fey, and youth obsessed. Sorry. And my impression of him is right too, because here’s what Mother Jones says about Amodio’s work.

Welcome to the world of implicit racial biases, which research suggests are all around us, and which can be very difficult for even the most well-intentioned person to control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do anything about them: We can draw attention to the insidious nature of these subconscious influences, and we can work to prevent them from exerting harmful effects not only on interpersonal behavior, but also on policy, employment practices, and public life. That’s what Amodio’s research (and that of many other social psychologists and neuroscientists who study prejudice) is centrally aimed at achieving.

The Mother Jones article links to lots of science. For example, the FAQs on the Stanford School of Medicine Implicit Association Test (IAT). Here’s an excerpt from that page.

Over 200 published studies using the IAT have shown that implicit bias can influence behavior in important ways. For example, IAT scores can predict how we treat members of another race, whether we are likely to binge drink, and even whether we are likely to attempt suicide.

I can already tell you that this is absolute garbage. You’re relying on the test taker’s honesty. An online test is utterly worthless when it comes to determining something as complex and emotionally explosive as propensity to commit suicide. Look at Harvard’s login page to take their IAT.


“Find out your implicit associations about self-esteem, anxiety, alcohol, and other topics! GO!”

Yeah, that’s some serious science there.

“Hey, I’m gonna commit suicide! Cool!

Also, Mother Jones assumes that the IAT is universally accepted as a valid method of determining racism. It isn’t. I knew immediately when I read the piece that the IAT was measuring “us versus them,” not racism. All members of groups feel more positive toward those who share their traits. I tried to plow my way through Amodio’s 2006 test. It’s written in such an unnecessarily dense academic style that laymen—such as Mother Jones writers Indre Viskontas and Chris Mooney—could not possibly understand.

The results of Study 1 showed that participants possessed significant levels of implicit evaluative and stereotyping biases but that their levels of each bias were uncorrelated, suggesting conceptual independence. It is noteworthy that although athleticism, rhythmicity, and (un)intelligence represent a subset of commonly observed African American stereotypes, they are among the most central to the stereotype. Indeed, these three attributes were the most frequently cited by participants instructed to freely list traits associated with African Americans (Devine & Elliot, 1995). Because our stereotyping IAT focused on the three most central traits of the African American stereotype, and given previous findings that the activation of a central stereotype typically activates the constellation of African American stereotypes (Devine, 1989; Lepore & Brown, 1997), it is likely that our measure of implicit stereotyping reflected associations with the general African American stereotype. Nevertheless, it would be important to show that stereotyping IAT scores were predictive of responses to an African American target, reflecting stereotypic content that reached beyond traits of (un)intelligence, athleticism, and rhythmicity.

Studies 2 and 3 were designed with two goals in mind: to replicate Study 1 findings and to test the hypothesis that implicit stereotyping and evaluation are uniquely predictive of different forms of race-biased behavioral outcomes. The behavioral effects of implicit stereotyping and evaluation in Studies 2 and 3 were examined using double-dissociation designs constructed to isolate unique effects of predictors on specific outcome variables. Here, we tested the hypothesis that implicit stereotyping would be associated with instrumental but not with consummatory forms of race-biased behavior, whereas implicit evaluative race bias would be associated with consummatory but not with instrumental forms of race-biased behavior.

Got that? No, I didn’t either. We’re just supposed to take Amodio’s word that his tests proved his hypothesis, that all white people are racists. The Mother Jones article also says the following.

The result was that among white doctors, as their implicit bias increased, their medical decision-making about black patients changed as well. In particular, their likelihood of treating a black patient with thrombosis, a drug treatment to reduce blood clots (and prevent heart attacks), decreased. In other words, they were less likely to administer a potentially life-saving treatment.

And that’s just the beginning. Other studies have shown that doctors are more likely to recommend and perform unnecessary surgeries on racial and ethnic minority patients than on their white counterparts. They’ve also shown that Latina and Chinese women are less likely to receive hormone therapy (which decreases the risk of recurrence of breast cancer) than white women.

They’re saying that studies show white doctors both neglect and over-treat their patients of color. Well, which is it? And if you look at one of the studies linked, it says in plain English that what motivates doctors is their patients’ cooperation. Here’s where we get into an area that makes white people really uncomfortable: Different cultures have different values. Since you’re all terrified that I might say something RACIST, I’ll point out that the study I just mentioned found that doctors perceive uneducated, low-income whites as uncooperative.

How cooperative do you think these white people are in their medical treatment?

Am I a racist for surmising that these white people probably won’t follow their doctors’ orders? My lily-white father never once followed his doctors’ orders. It killed him. His doctor was Taiwanese. He and I have talked a lot about Dad. Basically, Dad was untreatable.


Doctors have limited resources. They have to perform triage every day. If the patient won’t cooperate, what’s the doctor supposed to do? Was Dad’s Taiwanese doctor racist for perceiving my white father as uncooperative, which he was?

Finally, David Amodio says that our implicit racism is due to the amygdala of our brain being pounded day and night with the racial stereotypes that define our culture. Because of this “fear conditioning,” when white people see a black face, immediately an internal loudspeaker goes off: “Danger! Danger! Danger!” Amodio gives away the game in the last three paragraphs of the article.

“The human mind is extremely adept at control and regulation,” Amodio says, “and the fact that we have these biases should really be seen as an opportunity for us to be aware and do something about them.”

That’s why, in the end, Amodio doesn’t think that the mere existence of implicit biases provides any excuse for the display of overt or explicit racism. After all, stereotypes are ubiquitous. We all perceive them in our culture, but we do not all act upon them. In other words, we have the ability—and the responsibility—to regulate our own behavior.

“I don’t really think humans have any good excuses for acting on their automatic biases,” says Amodio.

This negates the entire article. At first they differentiated between explicit racists and implicit racists, but then they conflated the two. Also, Amodio just revealed what I believe to be his agenda. Neuroscientists know that a “fear memory” will become lodged in the amygdala forever. The only way it can be made extinct is through overriding it with a “fear-inhibiting memory.” Those are stored in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC).

You need medication and extensive retraining to banish fear memories. If Amodio actually believes that “implicit racism” is the result of fear conditioning that has changed the amygdala, then he knows that we can’t simply decide to not feel that way anymore.

The Mother Jones article is just more junk science designed to make all you white folks think that you suck, that you need some outside force to control you, and that you must allow the complete overhauling of our culture. You’re supposed to accept that white people have had their brains damaged by racist imagery and stereotyping. Someone needs to put a stop to it! We need new laws, new bureaucracies, new curricula in our schools, and massive censorship of our entertainment.

None of this applies to me because I’m Mexican.


I can’t be a racist or even manifest racist thoughts. Ain’t it grand?