The Study Of Intelligence, Ctd

Nov 28 2011 @ 12:16pm

I worried that political correctness and racial squeamishness have hindered the study of intelligence. TNC counters:

Advocates of the "p.c. egalitarianism" theory, such as Andrew, evidently believe that the notion that black people are dumber than whites is a cutting edge theory, as opposed to a long-held tenet of slave-holders and white supremacists. They present themselves as bold-truth tellers who will not bow to "liberal creationists." In fact they are espousing firmly established views that date back to the very founding of this country. These views did not emerge after decades of failure of social policy. Indeed they picked up right where their old advocates left off; within five years of the passage of the Civil Rights Act, Arthur Jensen was convinced that black people were intellectually addled.

This is roughly the quality of the responses to The Bell Curve when it came out, but with added inaccuracy. No one is arguing that "that black people are dumber than white," just that the distribution of IQ is slightly different among different racial populations, and these differences also hold true for all broad racial groups:

Perhaps there really is a genetic relationship between the darkness of skin and the potency of neurons. (Only for "Africans," mind you.) Maybe the sterilizers and the slave-traders were wise beyond their years.

No, not "only for Africans". The differential between Caucasians and Asians – or between Ashkenazi and Sephardim Jews – is also striking in the data. And notice that my sole interest in this is either to counter what would be an injustice (affirmative action) or pure curiosity. I don't think any serious critic of my work could conjure up a defense of compulsory sterilization or slavery within it. And the notion that I have an "obsession" with this is bizarre. I thought it worth airing the discussion a decade and a half ago and I think it's worth airing today. It's fascinating in and of itself. Dr. X uses a different line of attack:

I think Sullivan is simply uninformed about the amount of non-racial IQ research that is occurring, as I argued in my previous post on the subject. I'm certainly not for squelching research because it makes people uncomfortable—that is a legitimate concern—but I do think Sullivan is so bothered by the possible violation of an academic principle he rightly holds dear, that he's making extremely excessive, sweeping pronouncements about the legitimate purposes of research and about a blackout in the field. It's evident that he knows little to nothing about that research or its historic and present-day context in the practitioner subdiscipline of psychology.

I certainly don't have profound knowledge of the deep research of experts in the field. But since the Bell Curve contretemps, I have kept up a little with some in the field who sympathize with my own position on this. They say the chilling effect has only gotten worse. Even a scholarly citation of Jensen can cause havoc with your career. Maybe the effect on research into non-racial aspects of IQ has been exaggerated and readers should check out Dr X's data. But they should also check out the original piece, which has some serious points to make.

As to whether my rhetorical statement that research is for finding stuff out, not helping people, I am obviously making a point about the ultimate telos of research. Of course, plenty of research is done for specific useful goals – as in protease inhibitors by, say, drug companies. But basic scientific research – the kind done at the NIH because no private funder would be interested – remains engaged in finding out truth for its own sake.