The Study Of Intelligence, Ctd

Nov 23 2011 @ 12:59pm

A reader writes:

I know you have an iron in this particular fire, but I wonder what exactly you're so upset about. I'm going to grant you fully, for the sake of argument, that there are enduring and resilient racial differences in IQ. (I'll also admit that intellectually I would want to know why such differences exist.) But what then? Do we enact policy that makes prejudiced assumptions about differences in IQ on the basis of race, even though we know (like Jensen) that on a pairwise basis those assumptions have a very large chance of being wrong? I'm guessing your answer is an emphatic "no." And if I were a similarly inclined social scientist – one who thinks there's something "real" in IQ and that racial differences in that metric are persistent – what's the point of going down that research pathway if I know that nothing practical would ever come of it but sadness and misunderstanding?

You say "p.c. egalitarianism" strangled this field of research and that researchers have run away in a "racial panic." Really? I would challenge you, the next time you decide to dig this one up, to please discuss how this kind of research would actually help people, rather than just be a weapon of bigotry.

Two points: research is not about helping people; it's about finding out stuff. And I have long opposed the political chilling of free inquiry into any area of legitimate curiosity or research. I'm not going to stop now. Secondly, I agree that there would be very little, if any, use for this data in our society, apart from the existence of affirmative action. But when public policy holds that all racial difference in, say, college degrees, are due to racism, a truth claim has already been made. So the p.c. egalitarians have made this a public and social issue by a statement of fact they subsequently do not want to see debated or challenged using the data. That's an illiberal position, in my view.

I remain gob-smacked by the resilience of IQ differences between broad racial groups, controlling for much other data. Maybe if we understood what was going on – which particular and subtle combination of genetics, culture and generation makes this the result – we could help increase equality of opportunity. Maybe racial categories themselves have become so fluid and opaque the whole area is now moot. Maybe we should accept that differences in outcomes among racial groups have some element of irreducibility to them. Maybe the answer is to abolish racial affirmative action and replace it by class-based forms. Maybe the answer is to abolish affirmative action altogether (my preferred outcome). But all these questions depend on a thriving research culture which has been chilled by politics. That's what saddens me.

This subject is a well-worn path for the Dish – read here, here and here for but a small sample of the debate.