Blogs > Liberty and Power > Race and IQ

Aug 17, 2007 12:41 am

Race and IQ

In today's issue of The Times (London) Matthew Syed suggests that we not cower from the hard truth about race and IQ.

"The debate over racial differences in IQ represents perhaps the greatest scientific controversy of the past half-century. The facts are not in serious dispute: blacks score, on average, significantly lower than whites in IQ tests in the United States, Britain and beyond.

"Some argue that the only plausible response is to accept that blacks are naturally less intelligent than whites, a view that causes outrage among equal rights campaigners. But is there an alternative explanation for these puzzling statistics and what would it mean if there were not?"

Read the rest here.

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Tim Sydney - 8/21/2007

In the modern world "scientism" (as distinct from actual science) has replaced traditional faith as the official state religion. The planner state is truly here and scientism is it's holy water.

Scientific, pseudo-scientific and quasi-scientific arguments are seen as the ultimate in decision making in virtually all areas of policy. Even completely non-scientific issues must be dressed in rationalistic garb to earn a hearing. This of course is all fine by the new priesthood of academically blessed 'experts' whose rival pontifications are often as obscure as medieval monks debating the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. Similarly just as the old priests were not too keen on the laity reading the Bible for themselves, the new priesthood are not too keen on the current laity having their own opinions on matters 'scientific'.

This leads to some absurdities that future historians will no doubt scoff at, just as current historians scoff at the superstitions of the allegedly ignorant middle ages. Currently the apparently independently verifiable and repeatable idea that there are "racial" differences in "intelligence" is "out", politically incorrect and labelled "unscientific", and thus bad. At the same time the idea that homosexuality is genetic, so far completely unproven, has been raised to the level of conventional wisdom. So much for the scientific credentials of elite, media and public opinion.

Enough big picture criticism. What about the race IQ debate itself?

It would seem to me that both "race" and "intelligence" are rather squishy concepts and the attempt to multiply one squishy concept by another squishy concept is most likely to produce a Gawd awful mess.

As far as libertarian / classical liberal thinking is concerned, we should say "a pox on both your houses" to both the social engineers of the right and left who want to make either psychometrics or equality-of-outcomes egalitarianism the driver of their rival social policies. Eugenics has thankfully for the time being been defeated but we can not be too careful that it won't arise again from the dead. Many of us thought torture was a dead issue a mere decade ago. These old threats to liberty have a zombie like ability to return.

Classical liberalism is about individuals not collectivist antheaps, rights not entitlements, laisser faire not social engineering. To hell with the lot of them!!

Steve Jackson - 8/19/2007

If one could document some of Sowell's claims then perhaps. But he doesn't give any sources.

In 2005 there was an article written by Rushton and Jensen on racial differences, a critique by Nisbett, and a response by R&J. It's available on the net.

Here is part of R&J's response:

"How do the critics explain the fact that the Black–White difference is greater on backward than on forward digit span memory, or on the more complex rather than simple reaction time measures—exactly as predicted by Spearman’s (1927) hypothesis? How do they explain the fact that Black students from families with incomes of $80,000 to $100,000 score considerably lower on the SAT than White students from families with $20,000 to $30,000 incomes? How do they explain why social class factors, all taken together, only cut the Black–White achievement
gap by a third? Culture-only theory cannot predict these facts; often its predictions are opposite to the empirical results."

Roderick T. Long - 8/19/2007

A couple of observations from Thomas Sowell that make it pretty unlikely that the difference in IQ test results is genetically based:

Steve Jackson - 8/17/2007

To the extent that researchers are able to take into account environmental factors, these tests don't confirm the environmental/ egalitarian position.

For example, adoption studies show that blacks adopted into white families have lower IQs than whites.

In addition, why are there virtually no black countries that have an "environment" as developed as that of whites?

Bill Woolsey - 8/16/2007

I am curious as to who are these far rightists who are today arguming that genetic differences in IQ between races imply that school segregation is desirable or that blacks should be barred from university.

I can't pretend to be an expert on the far right, but most of us here are aware that these issues arise in criticisms of the paleo-libertarians alliance with paleo-conservatives shading over into neo-conferates and on to white nationalists. As this issue has developed over the years, I have been exposed to a bit of "far-right" racist theory.

I thought that the reason this issue is so controversial is that observed differences in, for example, entrance into college, don't reflect racism but rather ability. It seems to me, this makes affirmative action policies difficult to justify, though I don't see why it would suggest that anti-discrimation statues are unjustified, much less that compulsory segregation is sensible.

Since affirmative action is very controversial, and very few people oppose laws against discrimation, it looks like this was a straw man.

By the way, "seed" example is not quite appropriate. At lests some tests of IQ differences do attempt to control for other factors.

I must admit that consider "political
correctness" to often to be little more than civilty. And I don't think racial differences IQ imply anything one way or another about equality under the law, so it has also been something of only causal interest to me.

Jonathan Dresner - 8/16/2007

Aside from the cultural bias question, the history of the IQ test itself inspires no confidence whatsoever.

IQ -- intelligence quantification -- is a zombie error and any attempt to use it analytically has to be treated as junk science.

Steven Horwitz - 8/16/2007

you'll see that the author presents a compelling argument for seeing the observed differences as being environmental in origin.

One might argue, in the US in particular, that difference in school quality between predominantly black and predominantly white areas might explain much of these difference. This, of course, would be a good argument for taking steps to privatize K-12 education if one believes, as I do, that it would lead to higher and more even quality all around.