3:52pm

Tue May 17, 2011
The Two-Way

Blogger's 'Ugly' Conclusions Anger Some In The Black Community

A blog posting on the website of Psychology Today asserted that black women were "objectively less physically attractive than other women" and then, as a backlash built — it vanished.

The posting was written by Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychology scholar associated with the London School of Economics, on a blog for the publication called The Scientific Fundamentalist. The posting's headline was initially tweaked and the entire essay was subsequently removed altogether on Monday.

Kanazawa's essay made a series of contentious claims including that women are on average more attractive than men — except for African-American women.

"It is very interesting to note that, even though black women are objectively less physically attractive than other women, black women (and men) subjectively consider themselves to be far more physically attractive than others," he wrote.

A number of prominent African-American commentators took offense.

"It struck us as so outrageous that we almost thought it was a hoax of some sort, and we double-checked the URL to make sure it didn't include 'The Onion,'" wrote Jenee Desmond-Harris of TheRoot.

In an email to NPR, Kaja Perina, Psychology Today's editor-in-chief, distanced her publication from Kanazawa's essay.

"Our bloggers are credential[ed] social scientists and for this reason they are invited to post to the site on topics of their choosing," Perina wrote. "We in turn reserve the right to remove posts for any number of reasons. Because the post was not commissioned or solicited by PT (in contrast to a magazine article), there was no editorial intent to address questions of race and physical attractiveness."

She did not address why the magazine's site had not acknowledged the removal or explain why it had done so.

Kanazawa has drawn criticism in several instances in the past, such as his contention that African countries were poor and suffered from ill health because their population suffered from low IQ, rather than poverty, war, disease, corruption, and other sources.

In this case, Kanazawa wrote that he drew upon on data points from Add Health — the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health first started in 1994-95 and updated most recently in 2008 — which he said "measures the physical attractiveness of its respondents both objectively and subjectively." The survey is a study of the health of adolescents and their behavior and health in young adulthood.

He speculated that the presence of testosterone, which he said was on average more present among Africans, might explain what he said was "the lower average level of physical attractiveness among black women."

The director of the Add Health project, Kathleen Mullan Harris, contradicted Kanazawa on the nature of her project's research in a telephone interview Tuesday. The longitudinal study, funded by the federal National Institutes of Health, also asked interviewers to describe their subjects' behavior during interviews, ethnicity, and other characteristics.

"He's mischaracterizing the objectiveness of the data — that's wrong. It's subjective. The interviewers' data is subjective," said Harris, who is also a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"The empirical analysis does not account for the characteristics of the interviewers, which influence their observation," Harris said, listing such elements as race, ethnicity, sex, education and life experiences.

Efforts to reach Kanazawa were not initially successful. On his personal website, he appeared to court controversy, writing, "Prepare to be offended." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.