The Evolutionary Psychology list used to be one of the most interesting places on the Internet. It was thoughtful, disciplined, multi-disciplined, and wide-ranging. There was seldom time to read all of it, but it was necessary to skim if you wanted to keep up with the world. The real glory was the fact that most of the postings were not from members. They came from the moderator, Ian Pitchford, pointing out interesting areas of new research.
In retrospect, now that we know what blogs are, it worked more like a blog than a mailing list. In fact most successful blogs have a ratio of comments to posts much higher than 40/60, if they allow comments at all.
But the founder got his PhD and moved to the States. At first this showed in a loss of focus: articles about the horrors of American life and foreign policy started to appear. Then it showed in a loss of interest or simply a loss of time. In any case, it seemed to me that less and less was posted on cutting-edge science. A co-moderator appeared, a man called Robert Karl Stonjek. The journalistic function of the list, where Pitchford read vast quantities of crap so we wouldn’t have to, fell behind. More and more it became a place for people to talk to each other.
Amid the waffle, something nastier began to appear. Some of the “scientific racists” like JP Rushton had always been members of the list. But their remarks had been moderated, and their view opposed. Now they began to flourish: the last straw for me was a long discussion in which Rushton claimed that Black African mean IQs are somewhere around 70; that this represents a genetically established and ineradicable difference, and that anyone who claims that the test results can be explained by poverty or racism is unscientific. Comment on the list seems to be running about 75-25 in favour of this crap. One man1 has posted a detailed and comprehensive refutation. Almost everyone else is either silent or claiming to be persecuted by the politically correct.
Marek Kohn, who left the list six months ago, when there was the last outbreak of this kind of argument, sent me the perfect epitaph. “I suspect we may be seeing a game theory lesson: any sociobiological internet group will be invaded by scientific racism, which is an ESS.”
1 I can’t link to it because the list is closed; but his name is Jason Malloy.