Francisco Gil-White (born July 1969) is an anthropologist who was Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania from 2001 to 2006 and lecturer at the Solomon Asch Centre for Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict. He was born in Chicago and raised in Mexico City. His father is Francisco Gil Díaz, Secretary of Finance and Public Credit in the cabinet of Vicente Fox. He holds a Masters Degree in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago and a PhD in Biological and Cultural Anthropology from UCLA.
Francisco Gil-White’s social scientific approach is broadly interdisciplinary and merges cultural and biological perspectives on human behavior. At the University of Chicago he obtained a master’s degree in social sciences that was flexible enough for him to also get training in population genetics and evolutionary theory. His master’s thesis, which defended that social science should be integrated with biology but not swallowed by it, won the 1996 Earl S. and Esther Johnson Prize, awarded for "combin[ing] high scholarly achievement with concern for humanistic aspirations and the practical applications of the Social Sciences."
From there he went to UCLA where he obtained his PhD in biological and cultural anthropology under Robert Boyd. His training includes evolutionary game theory, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral ecology, on the one hand, and the application of game theory to cultural transmission processes, traditional cultural ethnography, cultural psychology, categorization theory, field experimental psychology, and experimental economics, on the other.
His UCLA PhD thesis is based on 14 months of ethnographic work studying two neighboring ethnies: the Torgut Mongols and the Kazakhs of the Bulgan Sum (district) in the Khovd Province of Mongolia. His work is broadly concerned with explaining the mechanisms responsible for the social transmission of ideas and behaviors, referred to in this literature as ‘memes’ (by analogy to ‘genes’), the biases inherent in such mechanisms, and the selective forces, grounded in human social-learning psychology, responsible for the stability or instability of particular memes.
Gil-White's work on ethnicity began with a focus on the psychological biases that are responsible for biasing human reasoning processes when thinking about people in terms of their membership in ethnic or "racial" categories. His argument is that humans process ethnic categories with the same mechanisms that evolved to process biological species. His claim is not that human ethnicities are species, or even races, but that the human brain is evolved to process human ethnic categories as if they were.
According to Gil-White, various social processes are responsible for the clustering of cultural traits. In the resulting clumps, people are quite similar to each other in their adherence to a particular set of cultural norms, and markedly different from people in other such clumps. Since human interaction is more costly when those who attempt interaction are mismatched in their normative expectations, a psychological mechanism is needed to improve the probability of well-matched interactions.
Initially, trial-and-error learning led people to discriminate in their choice of social partners, favoring those who were most similar to them, but over time, this led to the creation of "endogamy boundaries" or "marriage frontiers" beyond which people tended not to outmarry, and within which people's norms tended to be very highly correlated. Once this began happening, the resulting endogamy boundaries began to look to people like species—that is to say, they became good input triggers for the pre-evolved psychological system that humans had evolved to reason about biological kinds: members of an ethnie:
- tend to have similar behaviors (norms) and "phenotype" (because they have distinctive hats, dress, body paint, scarification, etc.);
- they tend to mate with each other; and
- fully fluent members of their cultural set are almost always biological descendants of other members.
So the brain looks at this and thinks "biological species." Natural selection did not get rid of this inadvertent outcome because processing ethnic categories this way in fact improves the probability of well-matched interactions. However, one consequence of this has also been racism, for the illusion that ethnic categories have biological reality is very difficult for humans to shake, and helps give apparent support to a number of racist ideologies.
Gil-White's first presentation of his theory, in his doctoral thesis, won him the New Investigator Prize from the Human Behavior and Evolution Society in 1999. His main empirical results, from studying the reasoning biases of two neighboring ethnic communities in Western Mongolia results, and his theory, were published in the journal Current Anthropology in 2001.
Modern scientific racism
Gil-White has written a book-length refutation of the arguments of modern so-called scientific racists entitled "Resurrecting Racism: The modern attack on black people using phony science." In it, Gil-White explains why the genetic evidence refute the idea that human variation parses into subspecies (races). He also explains why the same psychological biases alluded to above make it so difficult for ordinary people to accept this, particularly when they are being bombarded with racist propaganda. Finally, he deals with the question of supposed IQ differences between the alleged "races," tracing the history of the IQ literature to defend his argument that this literature is a series of frauds produced by outright racists.
The Last Survivor
Francisco Gil-White has teamed up with Shie Gilbert, Mexico's most famous witness to the Holocaust, and his son Aron Gilbert, in the book El Último Sobreviviente ("The Last Survivor"). Still in good health, 87-year-old Shie Gilbert is internationally recognized as a witness to the Holocaust and is an experienced and energetic lecturer both in Mexico and abroad, educating an entire generation about the horrors of the Jewish experience in World War II. He is among the last survivors of the Holocaust, and perhaps the last one to give his testimony in book form. His son Aron Gilbert who actually wrote the book by interviewing his father over a period of years and conducting his own research, yet the book is written in the voice of his father. The Last Survivor contains a prologue by Francisco Gil-White, and a 70-page chapter at the end explaining why there have been mass killings of Jews century after century in over 2000 years of Western history, and why another one, in his view, is about to take place.
While doing doctoral work at UCLA, Gil-White and colleague Joseph Henrich developed and later published a theory to explain the evolutionary origins of prestige in human societies. Unlike chimpanzees, which form linear dominance hierarchies based on agonism, human groups naturally assemble into more egalitarian social arrangements where status is determined by relative prestige. Henrich and Gil-White's theory explains how prestige based social arrangements operate in hunter gatherer communities, and how natural selection created cognitive biases that enable high-fidelity social transmission between prestigious mentors and their clients. The theory has garnered considerable attention in evolutionary psychology and cultural anthropology literatures.
Gil-White was fired from the University of Pennsylvania. Gil-White claims that this was a politically motivated dismissal, a consequence of his investigative journalism, such as his refutation of the conventional version of the 1990s civil wars in Yugoslavia and his claim that the Palestine Liberation Organisation traces its roots to Adolf Hitler's World War II Final Solution. Gil-White has made public documents relevant to his dispute with the University of Pennsylvania,. As a consequence of the protest registered by UPenn students in the context of his dismissal, on February 17, 2005, Gil-White appeared on Hannity and Colmes (Fox News Channel) in a segment on "how far academic freedom should go."
Gil-White was assistant editor at the online magazine Emperor's Clothes from 2002 to 2005, and now runs his Foundation for the Analysis of Conflict, Ethnic and Social (FACES), which supports his website, Historical and Investigative Research, which publishes his political writings.
Francisco Gil-White teamed up with Israeli citizen Chaim Wolfowicz to create StrongIsrael.org in order to protest what they consider a repetition of the WWII appeasement of the German Nazis in the Oslo Process. The website gathers signatures from Israel and from all over the world in opposition to any more territorial concessions by the Israeli government to PLO/Fatah. Francisco Gil-White was interviewed by Israel National Radio on Sunday, October 27, 2007, about the StrongIsrael effort.
Partial list of works
- Gil-White, F. J. (1999) How thick is blood? The plot thickens...: If ethnic actors are primordialists, what remains of the circumstantialist/primordialist controversy? Ethnic and Racial Studies 22(5): 789–820.
- Henrich, J., & Gil-White, F. J. (2001) The evolution of prestige: Freely conferred status as a mechanism for enhancing the benefits of cultural transmission. Evolution and human behavior 22:165–196.
- Gil-White, F. J. (2001) Are ethnic groups biological 'species' to the human brain?: Essentialism in our cognition of some social categories. Current Anthropology 42(4): 515–554
- Gil-White, F. J. (2001) Sorting is not categorization: A critique of the claim that Brazilians have fuzzy racial categories. Cognition and culture, 1(3):219–249
- Gil-White, F. J. (2003) Gil-White, F. J. "Ultimatum game with an ethnicity manipulation: Results from Khovdiin Bulgan Sum, Mongolia," in Foundations of Human Sociality: Ethnography and Experiments in 15 small-scale societies. Edited by J. Henrich, R. Boyd, S. Bowles, H. Gintis, E. Fehr, and C. Camerer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Gil-White, F. J., and P. J. Richerson (2003) "Large scale human cooperation and conflict," in Encyclopedia of cognitive science. Edited by L. Nadel. London: Nature Publishing/MacMillan.
- Gil-White, F.J. (2005) How conformism creates ethnicity creates conformism (and why this matters to lots of things) The Monist, vol. 88, no.2 (pp. 189–237)
- Gil-White, F.J. (2005) Common misunderstandings of memes (and genes): The promise and the limits of the genetic analogy to cultural transmission processes. in S. Hurley and N. Chater, Perspectives on Imitation: From Mirror Neurons to Memes, MIT Press.
- J. Henrich, R. Boyd, S. Bowles, C. Camerer, E. Fehr, H. Gintis, R. McElreath, M. Alvard, A. Barr, J. Ensminger, K. Hill, F. Gil-White, M. Gurven, F. Marlowe, J.Patton, N. Smith, and D. Tracer. (2005) 'Economic Man' in Cross-cultural Perspective: Economic Experiments in 15 Small Scale Societes, Behavioral and Brain Sciences 28: 795–815. Cambridge University Press.
- 1996 EARL S. & ESTHER JOHNSON PRIZE University of Chicago ($1000), for the MA Thesis: The use of biology: A general defense of the evolutionary approach to human behavior. It is "awarded annually to that student in the Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences whose paper best combines high scholarly achievement with concern for humanistic aspirations and the practical applications of the Social Sciences."
- Gil-White, F. J. 2001. Are ethnic groups biological 'species' to the human brain?: Essentialism in our cognition of some social categories. Current anthropology 42:515–554.
- Gil-White, F. J. 2005. How conformism creates ethnicity creates conformism (and why this matters to lots of things). The Monist 88:189–237.
- "Resurrecting Racism: The attack on black people using phony science". Hirhome.com. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- El último sobreviviente (Spanish)[dead link]
- "HOMEPAGE - Francisco Gil-White - HOMEPAGE". 2010-09-01. Retrieved 2011-11-17.
- "Articles on the civil wars in the former Yugoslavia". Hirhome.com. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Understanding the Palestinian Movement". Hirhome.com. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Gil-White's position on dispute with University of Pennsylvania". Hirhome.com. February 11, 2005. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "On the importance of Israel National Radio (Arutz Sheva)". Hirhome.com. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- The Emperor’s New Clothes TENC
- Audio: Splitting Jerusalem or Fighting Back? (IsraelNN.com) A7 Radio's "Weekend Edition" with Tamar Yonah