John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire

John Derbyshire (born June 3, 1945) is a British-born author who lives in the United States and became a naturalized citizen in 2002. He is a columnist for the conservative magazines "National Review Online" and " [ New English Review] ". Derbyshire writes on a broad range of topics, including immigration, China, history, mathematics, culture, politics, and race. [cite web|url=|title=John Derbyshire archive|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13] [cite web|url=|title=Articles by John Derbyshire at New English Review|publisher=New English Review|accessdate=2007-04-13] Derbyshire graduated from University College London, where he studied mathematics. His wife is originally from China and they have two children. While raised an Anglican, he no longer considers himself a Christian but rather a Mysterian. [cite web|url=|author=John Derbyshire|title=God & Me"|publisher=National Review Online|date=2006-10-30|accessdate=2007-04-13] He currently resides in Huntington, New York.

Before turning to writing full-time, he worked on Wall Street as a computer programmer. As a novelist, Derbyshire's 1996 book, "Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream", was a "New York Times" "Notable Book of the Year". His more recent "Prime Obsession" was awarded the Mathematical Association of America's inaugural Euler Book Prize. [cite web|title=The Mathematical Association of America's Euler Book Prize|url=|publisher=MAA Online|accessdate=2007-04-13]

Writing and views

Intercultural marriage

Derbyshire and his wife, a Chinese woman from the People's Republic of China, have two children. During a debate with Jared Taylor at the Robert A. Taft club in August 2006 Derbyshire joked that the only reason he was not an open white nationalist was because "it would get me in trouble at home." During the question and answer session Derbyshire jokingly described his two children, Danny and Nellie, as "Danny-mud and Nellie-mud." [ [ Race and Conservatism ] ] He has argued that the internment of Americans with Japanese ancestry during World War II "not a very deplorable thing to do" and noted that in the event of serious war with China, similar internment of Americans with Chinese ancestry will occur and "I hope the camps will not be very uncomfortable, for I shall be there too-- the Derbyshires travel as a family." [ [ Thinking About Internment] ]

Disagreements with other NRO writers

Derbyshire has differed from his fellow writers at "National Review" on important subjects. For example, Derbyshire supported Michael Schiavo's position in the Terri Schiavo case, showed sympathy for class-warfare themes in movies such as "Titanic", argued that Pope John Paul II was totally unable to stop the secularization of the West, ridiculed George W. Bush's "itty-bitty tax cut, paid for by dumping a slew of federal debt on your children and grandchildren", [cite web|url=|title=Twilight of Conservatism|author=John Derbyshire|date=2005-05-10|publisher=National Review Online
] has derided Bush in general for being too sure of his religious convictions and for his "rich-kid-ness", [cite web|url=|title=Gone, but Not Forgotten
author=John Derbyshire|date=2006-07-05|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13
] dismisses small-government conservatism as unlikely to ever take hold (although is not unsympathetic to it), has called for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (but favored the invasion), opposes market reforms or any other changes in Social Security, defended Michael Jackson as harmless, is pro-choice on abortion, supports euthanasia in a fairly wide range of circumstances, and has suggested that he might (in a time of international crisis) vote for Hillary Clinton as president. [cite web|url=|title=Just Got Back From The Windy City... |author=John Derbyshire|publisher=National Review Online|date=2005-06-24|accessdate=2007-04-13] Derbyshire's views on the Schiavo case attracted harsh condemnation from fellow writers at "National Review Online". NRO writer and frequent blogger, Ramesh Ponnuru, attacked Derbyshire in language far more forceful than customary in "National Review's" internal debates. [cite web|url=|title=Contra Derbyshire|author=Ramesh Ponnuru|date=2005-03-23|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13] The Derbyshire-Ponnuru dispute arose again over Ponnuru's recently published book, "Party of Death". Derbyshire reviewed the book harshly in the "New English Review", [cite web|url=|title=A Frigid and Pitiless Dogma|publisher=New English Review|date=2006-06|author=John Derbyshire|accessdate=2007-04-13] and Ponnuru replied on NRO with another strongly worded attack on Derbyshire as "wrong," "florid," "anti-intellectual," "gaseous" and "preposterous" among other terms. [cite web|url=|title=Unreason|author=Ramesh Ponnuru|publisher=National Review Online|date=2006-06-07|accessdate=2007-04-13]


Derbyshire has written in heated terms against illegal immigrants, particularly those from Mexico and other Hispanic countries. A typical comment decried the "hordes of Central Americans pouring into our country." [cite web|url=|title=Mr. Bush, Tear Down This Wall!|author=John Derbyshire|date=2004-01-12|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13] Although this particular comment was ambivalent about a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, more recent remarks from Derbyshire have supported the construction of such a fence in highly charged terms: "Demand a wall...A wall! A wall!" [cite web|url=|title=Prez Speech|author=John Derbyshire|date=2006-05-16|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13] Derbyshire has also expressed the opinion that foreigners who overstay their visas in the U.S. should be permanently banned from the country. [cite web|url=|title=The Bill|author=John Derbyshire|date=2007-05-22|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-05-22] Derbyshire has admitted that he overstayed his visa in the United States by nearly five years. Though Derbyshire broadly agrees with many other writers at "National Review Online" on this issue, he encountered strong opposition from former NRO blogger John Podhoretz, who described Derbyshire's comments on restricting immigration to maintain "ethnic balance" in severe terms: "But maintaining 'ethnic balance' is not fine. It is chillingly, horrifyingly not fine." [cite web|url=|title=Ethnic Balance?|author=John Podhoretz|date=2006-05-12|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13] In response, fellow Corner contributor Jonah Goldberg, who described himself as philosophically "in the middle" of the two, noted: "I should say that I think JPod is getting too hung up on the phrase "ethnic balance" as a codeword for all sorts of unlovely things. It seems to me that if you're going to sit down and have any immigration policy at all, it's unavoidable that you're going to address the issue of ethnic balance in one way or another, no matter what you call it. Ultimately, you have to choose where people come from if you have an immigration policy, even if you emphasize other factors like skills or family unification. So you can either look at it directly or you can skirt around it. But you can't avoid it." [cite web|url=|title=Superior Immigrants|author=Jonah Goldberg|date=2006-05-12|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2008-05-11]

Race and homosexuality

Derbyshire has stated: "I am a homophobe, though a mild and tolerant one, and a racist, though an even more mild and tolerant one." [cite web|url=|title=An interview with John Derbyshire|date=2003-11-11|publisher=Collected Miscellany|accessdate=2007-04-13] He has also stated : "The U.S.A. was born with two race problems: the African Americans and the Native Americans. We struggle with those problems still, and must continue to struggle." [cite web|url=|title=Jonah's Immigration Point|date=2006-07-10|author=John Derbyshire|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13] Derbyshire's description of himself as "mild and tolerant" has been disputed by a number of other writers. Blogger Andrew Sullivan has called him "Herr Derbyshire"—a slightly veiled Nazi reference [cite web|url=|title=Clearing the Record|date=2006-05-13|author=Jonah Goldberg|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13] —and suggested that Derbyshire's opinions on immigration are the result of his admitted racism. [cite web|url=|title=Get a Grip|author=Andrew Sullivan|date=2006-05-13|publisher=The Daily Dish|accessdate=2007-04-13] For more on the Sullivan-Derbyshire dispute, see below. Derbyshire is also a strong believer in the genetic origin of the racial gap in IQ and posits this as the cause of economic disparity between the races in the United States. [cite web|url=|title=Race and Conservatism|author=John Derbyshire|date=2006-09|publisher=New English Review|accessdate=2007-04-13] He is influenced [cite web|url=|title=E pluribus plurimum|date=2003-01-03|publisher=New Criterion|accessdate=2007-07-10] by Carleton S. Coon's "great 1965 classic" "The Living Races of Man", and admitted to having "never been without a copy since." [cite web|url=|title=June Diary|author=John Derbyshire|date=2007-07-02|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-07-10]

In response to research by geneticist Bruce Lahn on the human genes, ASPM and the microcephalins, and their possible role in the evolution of human intelligence, Derbyshire commented, "our cherished national dream of a well-mixed and harmonious meritocracy...may be unattainable." Other geneticists, including one coauthor of Lahn's research paper, expressed strong disagreement with conclusions linking the genes to putative differences in cognitive ability among human subgroups. [cite web|url=|title=Brain Man Makes Waves With Claims of Recent Human Evolution|author=Michael Balter|publisher=Science|date=2006-12-22|accessdate=2007-07-12] In a related article in "National Review", Derbyshire dismissed what he called a contention by "foolish people" such as Richard Dawkins that science excludes religion. Derbyshire did maintain that scientists, in their professional research, owe allegiance to objective, measurable reality, uninfluenced by religious or ideological belief. [cite web|url=|title=The specter of difference: what science is uncovering, we will have to come to grips with|publisher=National Review|author=John Derbyshire|date=2005-11-07|accessdate=2007-07-14]

Iraq and terrorism

On the War on Terror and the War in Iraq, he has described himself as a "To Hell With Them Hawk", writing in "National Review": :We don’t particularly care whether the Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds of Iraq put down their arms. We only want them to put down their arms "against us". Henry Kissinger (who has been hanging around on the fringe of the THWTH clique--come on in, Henry!) famously said of the Iran–Iraq War that it was a pity both sides couldn’t lose. One doesn’t want to be accused of inhuman callousness; but I am willing to confess, and believe I speak for a lot of THWTHs (and a lot of other Americans, too) that the spectacle of Middle Eastern Muslims slaughtering each other is one that I find I can contemplate with calm composure. [cite web|url=|title=To Hell with the "To Hell With The ‘To Hell With Them’ Hawks" Hawks|date=2006-03-21|author=John Derbyshire|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13]

Intelligent design

Derbyshire wrote that Intelligent Design is::not just lousy science, but lousy religion. I dislike it, in fact, for the same reasons... that I dislike the "Left Behind" books & movies, and unbelievers telling me that natural disasters like the recent tsunami "prove" the non-existence of God.

:All that kind of thinking trivializes God... [According to proponents of intelligent design] God is a sort of scientist himself, sticking his finger in to make things work when natural laws — His laws! — can't do the job... I am certain... that we are not the children of some celestial lab technician. [cite web|url=|title=Intelligent Design|date=2005-01-12|author=John Derbyshire|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13]

He described the criticism he received after writing a critical article in "National Review" magazine as a conflict "worse than the bloody Middle East." [cite web|url=|title=Re: Intelligent Design|author=John Derbyshire|date=2005-01-11|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13]

His writings, namely on racism, but more significantly on Christian views has seen his theories and writings be termed "Derbism".


In August 1986, John Derbyshire married a Chinese woman in Changchun, China. He described the process in an article for "The Spectator". [cite web|url=|title=Getting Married in Manchuria|author=John Derbyshire (writing as "Giles Matthews")|date=1987-07-25|publisher="The Spectator"|accessdate=2007-04-13] In 2005, he provided his opinion on the possibility of war between the United States and China (presumably over Taiwan):

:I have no doubt that Chinese servicemen and U.S. servicemen will be shooting at each other some day soon; but I doubt it will come to a full-blown, city-flattening, carrier-sinking, massed-tank-battles kind of war, because I am unable to imagine any "casus belli" that would persuade Americans of the necessity for that. The Chinese are another matter; but it takes two to tango, and in the current state of our culture, with self-loathing anti-Americanism a required course at our elite universities, I am sure we would back down in any Sino-American conflict that did not have our own territory at stake. (Yes, including a conflict over Taiwan. Bye-bye, Taiwan.) But this is all guesswork. Of course nobody really knows whether there will be a war... perhaps my opinion is colored by wishful thinking. [cite web|url=|title=Soft Power, Soft Despotism|date=2005-03-16|author=John Derbyshire|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13]

Derbyshire opposes the current government of China: "China needs democracy. "China needs democracy." The twentieth century taught us, via an ocean of blood and a mountain of corpses, that nothing else will do. Without democracy, a country — any country — is on a slope to disaster." He wrote in the same article that China in its current state can best be described as the "sick man of Asia", borrowing "the phrase applied by fascist Japan to the chaotic warlord China of the 1920s." [cite web|url=|title=Sick Man of Asia|date=2001-11-30|author=John Derbyshire|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13]

Women's appeal

"Reason" magazine editor Nick Gillespie criticized Derbyshire's assertion:

It is, in fact, a sad truth about human life that beyond our salad days, very few of us are interesting to look at in the buff. Added to that sadness is the very unfair truth that a woman's salad days are shorter than a man's — really, in this precise context, only from about 15 to 20. The Nautilus and the treadmill can add a half decade or so, but by 36 the bloom is definitely off the rose. Very few of us, however, can face up to this fact honestly, and I am sure this diary item will generate more angry e-mails of protest than everything else I have written this month. [cite web
date=November 30, 2005
author= Derbyshire, John
title= November Diary
publisher= National Review
Gillespie responded, "Alas, Derb's clock ticks even for the Olsen twins." [cite web
date=December 2, 2005
author= Gillespie, Nick
title= Grasping the Ontological Significance of Janet...
publisher= Reason (magazine)
] Garance Franke-Ruta in "The American Prospect" denounced Derbyshire for "his own barely legal visual preferences." [cite web|date=December 4, 2005|author= Garance Franke-Ruta|url=|title= Ew is right|publisher= The American Prospect|accessdate=2007-05-11]

Virginia Tech massacre

The day after the killing of 32 students in the Virginia Tech massacre, Derbyshire was criticized for commenting on the lack of immediate action against the shooter. Derbyshire wrote in "National Review's" Corner blog: "Where was the spirit of self-defense here? Setting aside the ludicrous campus ban on licensed conceals, why didn't anyone rush the guy?...I hope, however, that if I thought I was going to die anyway, I'd at least take a run at the guy." [cite web
date=April 17, 2007|author= Derbyshire, John|url=|title= Spirit of Self-Defense|publisher= National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-17

In response, former "National Review" writer John Podhoretz commented harshly on Derbyshire's assessment: "The notion that a human being or group of human beings holding no weapon whatever should somehow 'fight back' against someone calmly executing other people right in front of their eyes is ludicrous beyond belief, irrational beyond bounds, and tasteless beyond the limits of reason. 'Why didn't anyone rush the guy?' Derb asks. Gee, I don't know. Because he was executing people? Because if you rush a guy with a gun, he shoots you in the head the way he executed the teachers in each classroom?" [cite web|url=|title=In a Classroom With a Gunman|author=John Podhoretz|date=2007-04-19|accessdate=2007-11-07|publisher=National Review Online]

The Hypothesis of Collective Imprudence

Coined by Derbyshire in July 2006, the Hypothesis of Collective Imprudence (HCI) stipulates that "no large collectivity of human beings (nation-state or larger) will ever act to avert an obvious calamity until that calamity begins to cause really major, dramatic, unignorable damage." [cite web|url=|title=How I Came to Stop Worrying and Love Global Warming|date=2006-07-05|author=John Derbyshire|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13] Often, when humanity is confronted with prospect of a catastrophe, "Nothing will get done until something awful happens. Then something will get done."

HCI seems to be a phenomenon attributable only to large groups of human beings. According to Derbyshire, "Individual human beings can, and often do, act with prudence. Insurance companies would be out of business otherwise. For nations, let alone for humanity at large, acting with prudence is so much the exception rather than the rule..." Examples of HCI cited by Derbyshire include World War II, 9/11, global warming and, potentially, illegal immigration. Derbyshire himself admits that the HCI is hard to falsify, insofar as any collectivity of humanity that "does" act prudently against potential dangers thereby prevents the "obvious calamity" from occurring.

Derbyshire, along with the help of readers, continued to refine the implications and ramifications of HCI, speculating that it "may have an unhappy corollary: When the human race (or some largish subset of it) really does get its collective act together to avert a foreseen evil, the evil is likely imaginary. This is the Corollary of Misplaced Collective Prudence." Derbyshire credited "a sapient reader" of his with providing "the most recent illustration"—Y2K. [cite web|url=|title=The HCI -- A Corollary|date=2006-07-06|author=John Derbyshire|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13]

Prior citations of "collective imprudence"

*In a December 1984 review of "Secrets of the Tax Revolt" by James Ring Adams in "Commentary Magazine", [cite web|url=|title=Public Prudence|author=Roger Starr|date=2004-12|publisher="Commentary Magazine"|accessdate=2007-04-13] Roger Starr wrote, ::Now, perhaps stimulated by the question of how the electorate permitted New York's rulers to mismanage its affairs badly enough to stumble into their 1975 disaster, Adams has surveyed the entire nation, and found that the struggle against collective imprudence is not a New York phenomenon alone. [Emphasis added.]
*In "Biotechnology and the Third World" (published in Ends & Means, No. 1, Autumn, 1996, pp. 26-31), [cite web|url=|title=Biotechnology and the Third World|author=Nigel Dower|date=2007-01-30|publisher=University of Aberdeen|accessdate=2007-04-13] Dr. Nigel Dower of the University of Aberdeen wrote,::That is, causing poverty might be a case of social injustice, but reducing biodiversity might be morally questionable because it was a case of collective imprudence, was harmful to future generations or was a wrong to nature itself. [Emphasis added.]

Removal of children from YFZ Ranch

Derbyshire was one of the few columnists to protest the removal of children from the FLDS-run YFZ Ranch in 2008 as an "atrocity". [cite news | url= | title= April Diary: Atrocity of the month | last= Derbyshire | first= John | date= 1 May 2008 ]

Andrew Sullivan

Blogger and journalist Andrew Sullivan has vigorously criticized Derbyshire, mostly over social issues involving race, homosexuality and feminism.cite web|url=|title=Orwell Lives!|author=Andrew Sullivan|date=2006-11-21|publisher=The Daily Dish|accessdate=2007-04-13] Sullivan describes Derbyshire as a paleoconservative. [cite web|url=|title=A Paleocon Lament|author=Andrew Sullivan|date=2006-06-12|publisher=The Daily Dish|accessdate=2007-04-13] Derbyshire has been criticized by Sullivan regarding the use of coercive force on prisoners in Iraq by U.S. troops. Sullivan also has a "Derbyshire Award" on his blog "for the nuttiest expression of bigotry from National Review's John Derbsyhire [sic] ." [cite web|url=|title=The Daily Dish Awards|author=Andrew Sullivan|publisher=The Daily Dish|date=2006-01-16|accessdate=2007-04-13]

Sullivan has posted respectful notices about Derbyshire for his apparent agreement with some of Sullivan's personal philosophy (although clearly not with respect to issues surrounding homosexuality): "Derb really is a conservative of doubt, I think, and, despite his bouts of curmudgeon and prejudice, I've come to admire and respect his intellectual honesty...." [cite web|url=|title=Quote for the Day|author=Andrew Sullivan|date=2006-10-31|publisher=The Daily Dish|accessdate=2007-04-13]

Mathematics popularizing

Derbyshire's book, "Prime Obsession: Bernhard Riemann and the Greatest Unsolved Problem in Mathematics" was first published in hardcover in 2003 and then paperback in 2004. It focuses on the Riemann hypothesis, one of the Millennium Problems. The book is aimed, as Derbyshire puts it in his prologue, "at the intelligent and curious but nonmathematical reader... I "think" I have pitched my book to the level of a person who finished high school math satisfactorily and perhaps went on to a couple of college courses...."

"Prime Obsession" explores such topics as complex numbers, field theory, the prime number theorem, the zeta function, the harmonic series, and others. The biographical sections give relevant information about the lives of mathematicians who worked in these areas, including Euler, Gauss, Dirichlet, Lobachevsky, Chebyshev, Poussin, Hadamard, as well as Riemann himself.

In 2006 Derbyshire published another book that attempted to popularize mathematics: "Unknown Quantity: A Real And Imaginary History of Algebra". Like his previous book, this survey includes many vignettes of individual mathematicians as well as thorough but accessible discussions of the actual mathematics involved.

Appearance in the Bruce Lee movie "Meng long guojiang"

Derbyshire had an uncredited role in "Meng long guojiang", a 1972 martial arts film starring Bruce Lee released in Western countries under various titles, such as "Way of the Dragon" and "Return of the Dragon". Of landing the part, Derbyshire says: " [T] he casting director had obviously just trawled around the low-class guesthouses for unemployed foreigners of a sufficiently thuggish appearance." He even took directions from the legendary Lee himself: "'Hey, Slim, let's try that again—and this time look mean. You hate me, remember? I'm a runty obnoxious little chink, just stole your woman, trashed your car and pissed in your beer. Whaddya gonna do to me? Huh? "Whaddya gonna do? Come on..."' (He spoke perfect idiomatic American English the whole time.)" [cite web|url=|title=Thug (Uncredited)|author=John Derbyshire|date=2003-10-15|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13]

Illegal Immigration

Despite his oft-voiced opposition to illegal immigration, Derbyshire has admitted that he was an illegal immigrant himself in the U.S. before achieving legal residence and eventual citizenship. He has even joked about his former illegal status, comparing himself to a "reformed drunk at a temperance meeting." [cite web|url=|title=Reformed|author=John Derbyshire|date=2006-04-11|publisher=National Review Online|accessdate=2007-04-13] According to Derbyshire, no American ever expressed any concern about his immigration status, supporting his belief that Americans are very reluctant to think seriously about immigration issues.cite web|url=|title=I Was an Illegal Alien|author=John Derbyshire|date=2003-03-24|publisher="National Review"|accessdate=2007-04-13]

Published works

* "Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream" (St. Martin's Griffin, 1997) ISBN 0-312-15649-9
* "Fire From the Sun" (Xlibris Corporation, 2000) ISBN 0-7388-4721-6
* "" (Plume Books, 2003) ISBN 0-452-28525-9
* "Unknown Quantity: A Real And Imaginary History of Algebra" (Joseph Henry Press, 2006) ISBN 0-309-09657-X

He has also written numerous articles for various publications, including "National Review", "The New Criterion", and "The Washington Times". On the National Review website, he maintains a weekly audio commentary on current events.


External links

* [ John Derbyshire's home page, with archive of web and print articles]
* [ Derbyshire's weekly podcast "Derb radio"]
* [ Archive of Derbyshire articles for "National Review"]

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