Below are the posts in which Andrew responds to the firing of the Jason Richwine, as well as the overall controversy of social science research into race and IQ. To skip the latest post in this thread (“Not Everyone Is Created Genetically Equal” on 5/28), click here. To skip down to the section of the thread regarding whether or not race is a social construct, including a back and forth with Ta-Nehisi Coates, click here.
May 14, 2013 @ 2:24pm
I should know better than to bring this up again. But the effective firing of a researcher, Heritage’s Jason Richwine, because of his Harvard dissertation should immediately send up red flags about intellectual freedom. I am not defending the Heritage report on immigration because I think it’s a loaded piece of agitprop. And I am emphatically not defending everything that Richwine has said and done (not least his disturbing willingness to be published in white supremacist magazines).
What I do want to insist is that the premise behind almost all the attacks – that there is no empirical evidence of IQ differences between broad racial categories – is not true. It is true (pdf), if you accept the broad racial categories Americans use as shorthand for a bewilderingly complex DNA salad (a big if, of course). There’s no serious debate about that. The serious debate is about what importance to assign to the concept of “IQ” and about the possible reasons for the enduring discrepancies: environment, nurture, culture, or genes – or some variation of them all?
For my part, I’ve come to doubt the existence of something called “g” or general intelligence, as the research has gathered over the years. I believe IQ is an artificial construct created to predict how well a random person is likely to do in an advanced post-industrial society. And that’s all it is. It certainly shouldn’t be conflated with some Platonic idea of “intelligence.” I don’t think it carries any moral weight at all, either, and I don’t think it should be used in any way in immigration policy. In fact, any public policy that rests on this kind of data is anathema to me. It’s far too close to eugenics, and to the morally repugnant idea that smarter people are somehow better in any meaningful sense.
But Richwine’s dissertation was mainly a quant-job. He comes across in this Byron York interview as a bit clueless – suspiciously so, I’d say – in extrapolating policy conclusions from IQ data in the context of immigration. But the core point about any dissertation is a simple one: does it hold up under scholarly scrutiny? Richard Zeckhauser, the Frank P. Ramsey Professor of Political Economy at Harvard, is on record as saying that “Jason’s empirical work was careful. Moreover, my view is that none of his advisors would have accepted his thesis had he thought that his empirical work was tilted or in error.” One of those advisors was the very serious and very liberal scholar Christopher Jencks.
I haven’t had time to read the thing, and some have cast aspersions on it after a browse. But it is abhorrent to tar someone researching data as a racist and hound him out of a job simply because of his results, honestly discovered and analyzed. One particularly disturbing statement came from 23 separate student groups at Harvard:
Central to his claim is the idea that certain groups are genetically predisposed to be more intelligent than others. In his troubling worldview Asians are generally at the top, with whites in the middle, Hispanics follow, and African Americans at the bottom. To justify his assertions he cites largely discredited sources such as J. Philippe Rushton whose work enshrines the idea that there are genetically-rooted differences in cognitive ability between racial groups.
We condemn in unequivocal terms these racist claims as unfit for Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard University as a whole. Granting permission for such a dissertation to be published debases all of our degrees and hurts the University’s reputation … Even if such claims had merit, the Kennedy School cannot ethically stand by this dissertation whose end result can only be furthering discrimination under the guise of academic discourse.
My italics. They are, of course, caricaturing the argument – I know of no scholar who believes that genes are entirely responsible for the racial differences. Here’s another caricature of it:
Human beings have not existed long enough to be divided into separate and distinct racial “species.”
Of course not. We remain the same species, just as a poodle and a beagle are of the same species. But poodles, in general, are smarter than beagles, and beagles have a much better sense of smell. We bred those traits into them, of course, fast-forwarding evolution. But the idea that natural selection and environmental adaptation stopped among human beings the minute we emerged in the planet 200,000 years ago – and that there are no genetic markers for geographical origin or destination – is bizarre. It would be deeply strange if Homo sapiens were the only species on earth that did not adapt to different climates, diseases, landscapes, and experiences over hundreds of millennia. We see such adaptation happening very quickly in the animal kingdom. Our skin color alone – clearly a genetic adaptation to climate – is, well, right in front of one’s nose.
But what the Harvard students are saying is worse than creating a straw man. They are saying that even if it is true that there are resilient differences in IQ in broad racial groupings, such things should not be studied at Harvard because their “end result can only be furthering discrimination.” You can’t have a more explicit attack on intellectual freedom than that. They even seem to want the PhD to be withdrawn.
Freddie deBoer and Reihan Salam have two good posts about this. Freddie:
Racism thrives on conspiratorial thinking and the self-definition of racists as an oppressed group. When you say things that are true aren’t, and especially when you do so in a way that treats the other point of view as forbidden, you play directly into their hands. I cannot imagine an easier way to give them fuel for their argument than to say that certain test results don’t exist when they do.
That’s my view in a nutshell. What on earth are these “liberals” so terrified of, if not the truth? Instead of going on racist witch-hunts, why don’t they question what IQ means, how great the cultural and environmental impact can be (very considerable), whether such tests should guide public policy at all, or examine how “race” as a social construct does not always correlate to specific variations in human DNA. Note how the terms “race” and “historical ethnicity” are not the same things, as Reihan does. Or do what the scholar Dana Goldstein has done – criticize Richwine’s dismissal of education and poverty as factors affecting IQ in his dissertation.
But please don’t say truly stupid things like race has no biological element to it or that there is no data on racial differences in IQ (even though those differences are mild compared with overwhelming similarity). Denying empirical reality is not a good thing in any circumstance. In a university context, it is an embrace of illiberalism at its most pernicious and seductive: because its motives are good.
Why Rule Out Racism?
Will Wilkinson asks:
I don’t think the subject or conclusion of Mr Richwine’s dissertation is out of the bounds of reasonable discourse. Yet I think a suspicion of racism is perfectly reasonable. Grad students can choose from an infinite array of subjects. Why choose this one? Who are especially keen to discover a rational basis for public policy that discriminates along racial lines? Racists, of course. Anyone who chooses this subject, and comes down on the side vindicating racist assumptions, volunteers to bring suspicion upon himself, to expose his work to an extraordinary level of scrutiny. Were Mr Richwine’s dissertation a model of scientific rigour, he might easily enough survive this scrutiny.
The first trouble with this is that Will provides no evidence that the dissertation is second-rate, except Dan Drezner’s quick browse. The PhD advisor is on record saying: “Jason’s empirical work was careful. Moreover, my view is that none of his advisors would have accepted his thesis had he thought that his empirical work was tilted or in error.” I’d put that more considered judgment over Dan’s. As for anyone thinking of examining group differences in IQ, the presumption of racism is pure prejudice. If Richwine had arrived at different conclusions, would he be given this treatment?
Freddie seconds Will:
Precisely so. It is not racist to ask these questions. James Flynn, one of the most important researchers of the question of human intelligence in history, has used this sort of research precisely to agitate for social justice and left-wing politics. But it is perfectly natural, in a country with such a long legacy of racism, to expect those arguing that race leads to inferior outcomes in as existential a quality as intelligence to be held to very stringent consideration. That is particularly true when, as in the case of Jason Richwine, that argument is levied in the service of further discrimination, a reactionary call against immigration and deepening racial diversity in the United States.
My problem here is with Freddie’s smuggling onto the argument a line about something “as existential a quality as intelligence.” That is not what IQ is. It’s a very limited measurement of predicted success on our modern economy. There are other kinds of intelligence, which can be measured differently. And you can also note that this research could also be saying that, on some cases, race may lead to superior outcomes – for, say, Asians and Ashkenazi Jews. If all this were a white supremacist plot based on rigged pseudo-science, I would not expect Jews to come out on top, or for there to be no measurable difference in IQ between the two genders, or for Caucasian whites to be in the middle of the pack. And I wouldn’t expect it to earn a PhD at my alma mater.
Since this issue is so explosive and important, I look forward to the scholarly dismantling of the Richwine thesis. Have at it. I’ll happily publish the grotesque, racist errors that somehow got past Christopher Jencks.
Race And IQ. Again. Ctd.
Ron Unz, who strongly objects to the treatment of Jason Richwine, nevertheless disagrees with the substance of Richwine’s dissertation:
First, he argues that the large IQ deficit of impoverished Hispanic immigrants is likely to inflict a long-term social disaster upon American society. However, it is well known that nearly all previous immigrant groups—southern and eastern Europeans—who came here in poverty similarly scored very low on IQ tests in the decades after their arrival, with results that were sometimes far below those of today’s Mexican immigrants. Yet after a generation or two their tested intelligence had almost invariably converged close to the American mean. Evidence of the past does not necessarily predict the future, but such a strong historical pattern should leave us cautious about assuming it will not continue.
In fact, Richwine specifically discusses the famous study by Carl Brigham, who concluded on the basis of the tests taken by WWI recruits that southern and eastern Europeans were drastically inferior in innate mental ability to America’s mostly northwestern European population and argued that their continuing immigration would produce a national disaster. Richwine rather cavalierly dismisses this historical analysis as having been based on poor testing methods and probably motivated by a belief in “bizarre … racial categories.”
But Brigham was a highly regarded psychometrician and his careful research was widely accepted by nearly all the leading experts of that time. Having carefully read his book, I cannot find any serious fault with his methods nor any indications of unscientific bias on his part. Brigham may have been mistaken in his conclusions, but they seem to have been based on the best evidence and theory of his day.
Furthermore, Richwine chooses to ignore a vast amount of additional evidence from that same period, much of which was collected in Clifford Kirkpatrick’s important 1926 academic monograph “Intelligence and Migration.” Kirkpatrick provides page after page of separate studies demonstrating that during the 1920s the tested IQs of American schoolchildren of Greek, Slavic, Italian, and Portuguese ancestry were usually in the 75-85 range, and that Jewish schoolchildren sometimes performed just as poorly. These results are hardly obscure since they have been cited for decades by Thomas Sowell, and I think it is a serious scholarly lapse for Richwine to have essentially ignored them. Perhaps he simply believes that all IQ experts of a century ago were frauds and their empirical work should be dismissed, but if so, he should explicitly make that argument. Otherwise, we must accept that southern and eastern European immigrant groups had very low IQs a century ago and have average ones today, which is an extremely important finding. In fact, I have demonstrated that there is overwhelming evidence that various other group IQs have risen rapidly over time, and I also provided some strong indications that this exact process is already occurring among today’s Hispanic immigrants.
On another matter, Richwine must be aware that Arthur Jensen and Hans Eysenck rank as two of the greatest figures in twentieth century psychometrics. Yet decades ago both these scholars reviewed the structural evidence of Mexican-American IQs, and reached conclusions almost identical to my own, namely that the acknowledged gaps to white intelligence scores were largely perhaps almost entirely due to environmental factors and would steadily disappear as the population became more affluent and acculturated. Scientists should not argue from authority and Jensen and Eysenck might certainly have been mistaken, but it seems unreasonable for Richwine to never mention their contrary analysis.
This is the kind of criticism that is far more serious and cogent than cries of racism.
Is Race Only A Social Construct?
Charles Mills makes the case dispassionately (and if you have the time, it’s well worth a full listen):
Since I really want to get to the bottom of this, it’s also worth quoting TNC’s latest post on the subject at length:
When the liberal says “race is a social construct,” he is not being a soft-headed dolt; he is speaking an historical truth. We do not go around testing the “Irish race” for intelligence or the “Southern race” for “hot-headedness.” These reasons are social. It is no more legitimate to ask “Is the black race dumber than then white race?” than it is to ask “Is the Jewish race thriftier than the Arab race?”
The strongest argument for “race” is that people who trace their ancestry back to Europe, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to sub-Saharan Africa, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to Asia, and people who trace their ancestry back to the early Americas, lived isolated from each other for long periods and have evolved different physical traits (curly hair, lighter skin, etc.)
But this theoretical definition (already fuzzy) wilts under human agency, in a real world where Kevin Garnett, Harold Ford, and Halle Berry all check “black” on the census. (Same deal for “Hispanic.”) The reasons for that take us right back to fact of race as a social construct. And an American-centered social construct. Are the Ainu of Japan a race? Should we delineate darker South Asians from lighter South Asians on the basis of race? Did the Japanese who invaded China consider the Chinese the same “race?”
Andrew writes that liberals should stop saying “truly stupid things like race has no biological element.” I agree. Race clearly has a biological element — because we have awarded it one. Race is no more dependent on skin color today than it was on “Frankishness” in Emerson’s day. Over history of race has taken geography, language, and vague impressions as its basis.
“Race,” writes the great historian Nell Irvin Painter, “is an idea, not a fact.” Indeed. Race does not need biology.
TNC’s commenters push back in exactly the same way I would. “UDDanB” writes:
– When my wife was pregnant, we saw an OB. She gave us a pamphlet about cystic fibrosis testing. I don’t recall the exact numbers, but the pamphlet said that roughly 1 in 30 Caucasians carry the recessive gene. She didn’t recommend testing because she said the chance that my wife (who is Japanese) has the recessive gene as well is almost incalculably low.
– I know a Jewish couple who just got tested for Tay-Sachs prior to marriage. They said their doctor recommended that they do so (citing the much increased chance of this disorder among Jewish couples).
This is exactly what Andrew Sullivan is talking about. To convince ourselves that all alleged differences among humanity are entirely ginned up in a social context is plainly nonsense to anyone who has ever talked to a doctor about anything similar to the above. The word “race” is a pedantic distraction here – TNC is, of course, correctly that the colloquial use of that term has evolved over time (and is usually flat out inaccurate). Maybe what I describe above is best formulated as “subgroups with genetic differences”- ok, fine. Lets have the primary debate using that term.
I think that reclassification is very helpful, although I’d call it “subgroups with genetic similarities“, i.e. subgroups with specific genetic ancestries that make them different from others. This makes sense from a Darwinian perspective, as TNC notes. Before humankind entered its hyper-mobile modern era, members of the same subgroups in particular places and environments obviously developed more genes in common with each other than with outsiders (skin color is just a superficial one). So we get this sentence in the NYT piece about Angeline Jolie’s genetic marker for breast cancer:
Any woman with ovarian cancer should consider being tested, as should Ashkenazi Jewish women with breast or ovarian cancer.
Is that sentence racist? Of course not. It merely recognizes biological traits that are common in one genetic ancestry rather than others. (Interestingly, the first version of the article simply state “Jewish women” and then added “Ashkenazi.” That’s almost a perfect example of how race can obscure reality, which is that Jews come from two distinct ancestries, Ashkenazi and Sephardim.) But the social racial category – Ashkenazi Jew – does actually correlate with a specific, biological genetic marker. Or take the gene CCR5, which provides immunity from HIV infection. It is not found in Africa – because it was a genetic variation that became more dominant in European populations during the Black Death. In that case, “race” in its crudest sense can be a shorthand for predicting the likelihood of certain genetic variations. But it won’t tell you in any specific case. Most “white” Europeans do not carry CCR5.
If we are discussing “subgroups with genetic differences,” we avoid the pitfalls of race as an overly-broad category. But we do not deny biological genetic differences in these subgroups, which can correlate with various degrees of accuracy with our crude racial terminology.
It’s really futile and I would argue self-defeating for liberals to deny this reality. These days, you can actually find out the exact subgroups with genetic differences that your DNA most closely resembles. You do that by spitting into a beaker and then sending off your DNA sample to Ancestry.com. Here’s what happens:
Once your results have been processed … you can log into your account and see an approximate composition of your ancestral DNA, which dates back around 500 years. For example, if your grandparents were half Polish and half Irish, your DNA results wouldn’t necessarily reflect that closely, but they would show you roughly where your family came from 10 generations ago.
Here’s how the science works:
Basically, your DNA is tested using several hundred “markers,” and compared using the “signal” those markers share strongly in common with geographic populations worldwide. Some markers have a very strong association with a specific location, making the results much more reliable, while others — such as those associated within central Europe, France, and Germany — are much less so, making that fine of a distinction often difficult to assume with a high level of accuracy.
These “subgroups with genetic differences” are real. Homo sapiens would be a bizarre exception to natural selection if they weren’t. And these genetic variations have changed within the last 500 years. Imagine how much they might have changed over hundreds of millennia, with subgroups largely separated from each other and adapting to very different challenges, diseases and climates. Commenter “kochevnik” addresses this point here:
Both the cases [UDDanB] mentioned do point to higher likelihoods of congenital disorders among certain ancestries (although if I’m not mistaken, Tay-Sachs is more an issue among Ashkenazi Jews, not Jews as a whole).
But in both cases a particular ancestry leads to a recommendation test for a particular gene. You don’t get cystic fibrosis because you are white. There is a higher likelihood that that condition will occur if you are white, which triggers to a test to find the actual gene that causes the disorder.
In the case of race and IQ, it’s comparing test scores to self-reported categories, the labels of which have been influenced by US history. No one has (as far as I can see) just made the case that x gene leads to y IQ score.
Not yet, but they are hard at work in China trying to figure it out. A lab partly funded by the government is examining the genome of 2,200 individuals with stratospheric IQs of over 160. They intend to compare those genomes with people of average IQ and see where the genetic differences are. This is not quack research – although it is a daunting scientific challenge with something as genetically complex as intelligence. Scientists have discovered a series of genes that regulate height, for example. But intelligence will require an enormous number of DNA studies before we get a clue. But the idea that genetics has nothing to with subgroups in human history or intelligence is bizarre. TNC responds:
The example I am more familiar with is sickle cell which is more prevalent among African-Americans than it is among “Caucasians.” But what do we mean by Caucasian? It’s obvious from this map that sickle-cell affects a lot more people than just “blacks”–including some who in America would be called “Caucasian.”
I appreciate your point. (No sarcasm at all.) I am not saying that there is no point in asking a patient about their ancestry. I am saying that the minute you say “Caucasian” you have entered the realm of race and social constructs, because “Caucasian”–like black–is a term defined by actual people, with actual agendas.
On this we can agree. “Race” as a term is very nebulous. But human subgroups with similar ancestries can have group differences in DNA – and intelligence is highly unlikely to have no genetic basis at all (although most now believe its impact is greatly qualified by cultural and developmental differences).
But what I really want TNC to address is the data. Yes, “race” is a social construct when we define it as “white”, “black,” “Asian” or, even more ludicrously, “Hispanic.” But why then does the overwhelming data show IQ as varying in statistically significant amounts between these completely arbitrary racially constructed populations? Is the testing rigged? If the categories are arbitrary, then the IQs should be randomly distributed. But they aren’t, even controlling for education, income, etc.
That’s the core problem with debunking the Richwine thesis. The policy inferences are repellent to me. But the data are real. And they correspond to our socially constructed racial categories. There’s no correlation between intelligence and height, for example, or between intelligence and gender (except arguably at the extreme extremes). So why would our constructed and arbitrary racial categories yield such dramatic IQ differentials? Remember this holds true even when controlling for class, money and education. The answer is: we can only guess. Once they find a specific genetic pattern for intelligence, as they are looking for in China, we may find out.
In a long and wonky post on genetics and race, Razib Khan defends a biological understanding of “race”:
The history of a population affects [its] genome, and its genome affects the nature of its traits and diseases. Because of differences across populations statistical geneticists with medical aims routinely restrict their data set to individuals of one population. And, within groups like African Americans which are admixed there is variation in disease risk by genomic fraction. Though an individual with 60 percent African ancestry may feel and say they are no more or no less African American than someone who is 80 percent African in ancestry, there are differences in disease susceptibilities.
There is no Platonic sense where there are perfect categories with ideal uses. Rather, we muddle on, making usage of heuristics and frameworks which are serviceable for the moment. We lose our way when we ignore the multi-textured nature of the issues.
But one of his commenters, like TNC’s, suggests using a term other than “race” to describe genetically similar populations:
The classical definition and conception of the word ‘race’ is too entrenched and changing it hardly seems a battle worth fighting (and likely futile anyway). Best to adopt a different term entirely.
My challenge to Ta-Nehisi:
[W]hat I really want TNC to address is the data. Yes, “race” is a social construct when we define it as “white”, “black,” “Asian” or, even more ludicrously, “Hispanic.” But why then does the overwhelming data show IQ as varying in statistically significant amounts between these completely arbitrary racially constructed populations? Is the testing rigged? If the categories are arbitrary, then the IQs should be randomly distributed. But they aren’t, even controlling for education, income, etc.
I do not know. Andrew is more inclined to believe that there is some group-wide genetic explanation for the IQ difference. I am more inclined to believe that the difference lies in how those groups have been treated. One thing that I am not convinced by is controlling for income and education.
African-Americans are not merely another maltreated minority on the scale of non-WASPs. They are a community whose advancement was specifically and actively retarded by American policy and private action. The antebellum South passed laws against teaching black people to read. In the postbellum South, black communities were the targets of a long-running campaign of terror. The terrorists took very specific aim at the institutions of African-American advancement. They targeted churches. They targeted businesses. And they targeted schools. In the mid-20th century, as we have been documenting, it was the policy of this country to deny African-Americans access to the same methods of wealth-building, that it was making available to whites.
This alone would be bad enough, but what makes it much worse is segregation. In his book American Apartheid, Douglass Massey looks at the dissimilarity indexes among African-Americans in various cities across the country in the mid to late 20th century. To summarize (and I can talk more about this) the lowest levels of dissimilarity in black communities are higher than the highest levels of dissimilarity among “white” immigrants.
This is not merely a problem for your local diversity and sensitivity workshop. It is a problem of wealth and power. When you create a situation in which a community has a disproportionate number of poor people, and then you hyper-segregate that community, you multiply the problems of poverty for the entire community–poor or not. That is to say that black individuals are not simply poorer and less wealthier than white individuals. Because of segregation, black individuals and white individuals of the same income and same wealth, do not live in communities of equal wealth.
The consequences of this are profound.* In this paper sociologist John Logan looked at the intersection of housing and segregation and found that, because of segregation, affluent African-American families, on average, lived in poorer neighborhoods than white families of much lower income.
What IQ Tests Measure
Brink Lindsey makes some important points about IQ scores. They are designed to predict outcomes in a post-industrial advanced society:
IQ scores clearly tell us something of genuine importance. They are a reasonably good predictor not only of performance in the classroom but of income, health, and other important life outcomes.
Then this qualifier:
IQ tests are good measures of innate intelligence–if all other factors are held steady. But if IQ tests are being used to compare individuals of wildly different backgrounds, then the variable of innate intelligence is not being tested in isolation. Instead, the scores will reflect some impossible-to-sort-out combination of ability and differences in opportunities and motivations.
I’m pretty sure that’s true. The trouble is: IQ researchers are not dumb. And they have done their best to control for background, culture, education, wealth, etc. And when they do, the differences between population subgroups of different ancestries do not go away completely. Brink is dead-right that upbringing is a big deal and can greatly affect the result. But those results tend to start at 8 years’ old and are hard to budge thereafter.
Leaving immigrants aside, in the US, we have not seen among longtime residents what we would expect: a convergence of IQ among all population subgroups. We do have rising IQ rates in general – as our brains adjust to the new and more complex set of tasks our modern society has created for them. There’s no reason to believe that immigrants of one population subgroup won’t rise in IQs over generations – and they have. But the other subgroup populations have rising IQs as well – and the differences do not go away.
Why else do they have a de facto Asian quota at Harvard? Why else did they once have an explicit Jewish one? That’s one of the ironies of affirmative action. The very liberals who deride “race” as a category, use it reflexively all the time in the case of affirmative action. And the upshot of their use is direct discrimination against population subgroups because of their higher scores. Accusations of racism cuts both ways. If the Supreme Court strikes down affirmative action this year, as seems likely, how will resilient differences in IQ between subgroups of differing ancestries be hidden?
Another important bit of Lindsey’s argument, with which I fully agree, is that the kind of intelligence measured by IQ is a very specialized and post-industrial-specific one. It has, as I’ve repeatedly, said, no intrinsic value, morally or otherwise. It’s entirely contingent on our particular kind of society and what kind of brain succeeds best in it on its own terms (of socio-economic advantage). There are many other just as valuable (in my view more valuable) forms of intelligence.
IQ tests reward the possession of abstract theoretical knowledge and a facility for formal analytical rigor. But for most people throughout history, intelligence would have taken the form of concrete practical knowledge of the resources and dangers present in the local environment. To grasp how culturally contingent our current conception of intelligence is, just imagine how well you might do on an IQ test devised by Amazonian hunter-gatherers or medieval European peasants.
The mass development of highly abstract thinking skills represents a cultural adaptation to the mind-boggling complexity of modern technological society. But the complexity of contemporary life is not evenly distributed, and neither is the demand for written language fluency or analytical dexterity. Such skills are used more intensively in the most advanced economies than they are in the rest of the world. And within advanced societies, they are put to much greater use by the managers and professionals of the socioeconomic elite than by everybody else. As a result, American kids generally will have better opportunities to develop these skills than kids in, say, Mexico or Guatemala. And in America, the children of college-educated parents will have much better opportunities than working-class kids.
And yet the median score for very wealthy subgroups is often lower than the median score for poorer subgroups. That’s the truly surprising result of the research, as you will find if you ever actually bother to read The Bell Curve, rather than simply dismissing it. Reihan calls Lindsay “entirely correct”:
Yet its implications for the immigration debate are not entirely clear. As a matter of distributive justice, discriminating against a given class of persons on grounds of inherited disadvantage seems profoundly unfair. And if we collectively decide that our immigration policy ought to be crafted with global distributive justice foremost in mind, admitting large numbers of less-skilled immigrants is obviously the right thing to do, given the size of the “place premium.” But if our goal is instead to recruit immigrants who are likely to flourish in an advanced economy, the case for assessing immigrants on the basis of whether or not they possess the highly abstract thinking skills associated with success seems much stronger. This would be the case whether or not a relative lack of the skills in question reflects some intrinsic quality (which, like Brink, I’m pretty sure is not the case) or contingent historical circumstances.
That’s why I favor giving foreign grad students an automatic green card with their diploma. But there should be no IQ-based testing of immigrants. We’d be a much less rich and genuinely diverse country if we did that.
“Racists Love Race Science”
Freddie DeBoer has a new post on the race and IQ debate that deserves to be read in full. A key part:
People insist: hey, you’ve got to let the science be the science, you’ve got to look at the facts, you’ve got to let them make the case. And I try. I read their essays. I follow their links. I do make a good faith effort. But I do not make that effort with similar credulity or sympathy that I do when I read someone write about tweaking the Earned Income Tax credit or make an argument about alcohol licensing. Why? Because one of these arguments has been used for the perpetuation of a system of chattel slavery and racist domination. That’s why. And, sure enough: whenever people pop up to tell me, “Here, check this link, read the facts,” and I click and read around, and then I follow more links, inevitably, I end up at Stormfront or similar houses of explicit racism. Inevitably, the people who are arguing about inherent black and Hispanic tendency to be unintelligent are also arguing about “black aggression” or “hypersexuality” or “inherent tendency to criminality.” This will apparently come as a shock to Andrew: racists love race science.
Is the correlation between belief in race science and racism 1? No. But it’s a lot closer to 1 than it is to 0. Is that dispositive of the question? Of course not. If there’s a racial bias towards low IQ, and if IQ is really an adequate gauge for real-world, lived intelligence, then the truth will out, just as it will if homosexuality is pathogenic. But to pretend as if people who are pushing the idea of inherent racial inferiority in IQ don’t tend to be the kind of people who believe all sorts of racist things is stupid. It’s moronic. It’s exactly the kind of willful failure to see connections that Andrew is accusing other people of.
I do not doubt that many of those pursuing this question are doing so for ugly reasons. Probably a hefty majority. That should make one especially leery of their arguments and make one very aware of the need to use empiricism almost pathologically. But, of course, one reason why this area is so clogged with racists is that non-racists don’t want to go there. My worry is that not going there will only rebound against the case that such data should not in any way be used for public policy. If affirmative action is finally abolished, we may be able to get race as an identifier out of policy discussions altogether. But what happens if affirmative action goes and we have universities that are overwhelmingly Asian-American and Jewish? What will liberals do then? Another important section:
I appreciate that Andrew has, as he always does, engaged with criticism and opposing opinion on this issue. But I am frustrated by Andrew’s continuing ahistorical credulity on this issue, his tendency to read the people making these arguments with the most possible charity. And he matches that with a distinct lack of charity for those resisting them, the constant invocation of liberal piety and political correctness. I would like very much for Andrew to consider whether his long history with this issue, and the attendant criticism he’s received, has rendered him too ready to see those pushing the race-IQ connection as principled empiricists untouched by emotion or animus. To posit that they are sober-minded, rational minds merely pursuing the scientific truth disinterestedly while their opponents are motivated by groupthink and emotion is a pretty great way to make yourself gullible on an issue where gullibility has profoundly negative consequences.
I cannot analyze myself – but I’m sure I am affected by my history on this. One part, as I’ve written before, is that my entire education was made possible by an IQ test at age eleven, which gave me entrance to what Americans would call a magnet school. I owe a lot to that test – and it was initiated by the left. Today’s liberals forget that testing IQ was once a leftwing idea. It was designed to rescue the poor from the trap of poverty by giving bright kids from poor backgrounds a swift entry to the British elite. That was the left of the 1940s – and you can look up Keynes and eugenics for further insight into how socialist this idea was in origin. Another part was, indeed, the reaction to my convening a debate on “The Bell Curve” at TNR, in the best-selling issue in that magazine’s history. I saw how some liberals really do not believe in free debate where race is concerned.
But I do not believe that critics of the whole project are fueled by groupthink or emotion alone. There’s a very solid case against race as anything meaningful in our culture, and an even stronger case that in the process of constant miscegenation, we are rendering the whole idea of race moot. I sure hope so. There’s also a strong argument that IQ is of extremely limited use – and, in fact, misses a whole range of intelligences that are often more important to our lives and cultures as humans.
I just refuse to wish the data away. The data shocked me when I first read it, and shocks me still.
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.
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-idenfies 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.
(Thumbnail image: DNA molecule display at the Oxford University Natural History Museum. By Flickr user net_efekt)