Not Everyone Is Created Genetically Equal

Dish alum Zack Beauchamp reports on the Richwine affair. He digs up some new details but also downplays the importance of genetics. Zack’s research does suggest to me that Richwine’s thesis was “good enough” empirically, but way too broad in its inferences. But then Zack writes something like this:

Alleging that, as a group, an enormous percentage of Americans are and always will be dumber than their fellow citizens isn’t just normal academic inquiry.

That’s not what even the most genetically-inclined scholars believe. There are huge overlaps of IQ among self-reported racial groupings – with all of them having much more in common than apart. And Charles Murray has never doubted that environment matters – especially in the first few years. But when you’re dealing with scores that get you into Ivy League colleges, for example, those minor differences between groups as a whole will lead to obvious racial disparities. There will be far more Asians and Jews than are represented in the population at large. Soon, liberals may have to confront this not as a black or white problem, but as a question of whether it is just to deny places to Asians and Jews just because of their ethnic background. I think liberals dismiss this data at their peril.

Freddie sighs:

Beauchamp goes hard on the notion that environment trumps everything when it comes to IQ. Indeed, he goes so hard on that attitude that most readers will likely think that there is nothing to the notion of a genetic basis for IQ. That’s simply not in keeping with the large majority of the data.

For example, that adopted children have IQs that correlate far more highly with their biological parents than their adoptive parents has been replicated repeatedly. (See, for example, Plomin et al. from 1997, for just one.) James Flynn, who I will remind you is deeply committed to social justice and is also the preeminent researcher in IQ, wrote in 2007, “The most radical form of environmental intervention is adoption into a privileged home. Adoptive parents often wonder why the adopted child loses ground on their natural children. If their own children inherit elite genes and the adopted child has average genes, then as parents slowly lose the ability to impose an equally enriched environment on both, the individual differences in genes begin to dominate.” That Flynn piece, I think, is really excellent as a discussion of how to think through and understand the interactions between genetics and environment in IQ. It is not defeatist, and could never be called racist. But it is far more sober and clear about the relationship between genetics and IQ than Beauchamp’s piece.

Why Freddie keeps fighting this fight:

We don’t have to misrepresent the importance of genetic parentage to IQ to recognize the importance of environment. Beauchamp makes some very good points about what it means to be Hispanic and about what a race is. I myself have written four times in the last week or two about why we shouldn’t listen to Jason Richwine. By misrepresenting the actual extant evidence, well-meaning people play into the hands of those who work tirelessly to establish the idea of a conspiracy to hide the truth.

Removed from the emotional grindhouse of race, why does all of this matter? It matters because our educational debates are dominated by a piety that almost everyone argues but almost no one believes: that all people are of equal ability. If you think that’s an exaggeration, consider No Child Left Behind, which insists: 100% must achieve the standard, 100% compliance. Here in the real world, 100% of people will never reach the standard in anything at all. Yet this notion that our problems can all not only be improved upon but literally erased permeates education at all levels. It is the most glaring orthodoxy in our educational debates: you must never suggest that anyone will ever fail.

Freddie, who self-identifies as a socialist, goes on to write, “I don’t mind pointing out that human beings are substantially unequal in their abilities because I don’t think that this should condemn anyone to a life of poverty.” Me too. I oppose any public policy based on racial profiling, including affirmative action. I believe in a firm safety net. I just believe in dealing with reality and making the best of it. If that means more aggressive early intervention in child-rearing, then we need to put that on the table, especially if affirmative actions falls.