Meisenberg, Gerhard. 2019. “Should Cognitive Differences Research Be Forbidden?” Psych 1 (1): 306–19.
Some authors have proposed that research on cognitive differences, including differences between ethnic and racial groups, needs to be prevented because it produces true knowledge that is dangerous and socially undesirable. From a consequentialist perspective, this contribution investigates the usually unstated assumptions about harms and benefits behind these proposals. The conclusion is that intelligence differences provide powerful explanations of many important real-world phenomena, and that denying their causal role requires the promotion of alternative false beliefs. Acting on these false beliefs almost invariably prevents the effective management of societal problems while creating new ones. The proper questions to ask are not about the nature of the research and the results it is expected to produce, but about whether prevailing value systems can turn truthful knowledge about cognitive differences into benign outcomes, whatever the truth may be. These value systems are the proper focus of action. Therefore, the proposal to suppress knowledge about cognitive ability differences must be based on the argument that people in modern societies will apply such knowledge in malicious rather than beneficial ways, either because of universal limitations of human nature or because of specific features of modern societies.
In particular, Section 5 is a masterpiece in the art of reframing “liberal” objections to IQ research in a way that makes them out to be the reactionary troglodytes.
Today, some experts (e.g., Richard Lynn) claim a very slight (3–4 points) male advantage in general intelligence during adulthood while others (e.g., James Flynn) deny it… This contrasts with much larger non-cognitive differences, for example a one standard deviation difference in vocational interests on the people–things dimension, and even larger differences when multivariate effect sizes of latent factors are determined. Non-cognitive sex differences, including lower female risk taking and competitive spirit, are generally recognized as the main obstacles for attempts at educating women into traditionally male value systems and occupations. There is also evidence that female relative to male happiness and life satisfaction tend to be high in Muslim countries and in countries with low female labor force participation. This kind of knowledge, rather than knowledge about female intelligence, should be prohibited in societies whose elites disparage traditional female values and social roles!
Free will belief is associated with moralistic standards applied to self and others, just world belief, retributive punishment, and generally with “conservative” values [53,54]. When used as an alternative to genetically based ability differences, it leads to victim blaming: the belief that the poor do not deserve sympathy or assistance because their poverty is their own fault.
Revealingly, the “Bell Curve Wars” of the 1990s coincided with a virulent (and bipartisan) anti-welfare movement in the United States that was driven by a belief in the undeservingness of the poor. In the United States, genetic causes of poverty and other social disadvantages, and especially the belief in genetically caused intelligence differences, had been repudiated by the intellectual elite since the 1960s. With innate ability differences out of the debate, intellectuals blamed the persistence of poverty and social pathologies on other intellectuals, while everyone else applied the deservingness heuristic to blame the victims—the “black welfare mother”, in particular.
The most popular and most divisive alternative to innate ability differences as an explanation for unequal outcomes is discrimination, conceptualized as “institutional racism”, “symbolic racism”, and similar constructs [61,62], sometimes bordering on conspiracy theories. In the United States half a century after civil rights legislation and after intense efforts at ending discrimination, the belief in the continued power of racial discrimination implies the belief that discrimination is intractable. This leaves racial segregation as the only remedy. Conversely, genetically based race differences in intelligence can be used to argue that affirmative action policies should be maintained until undesirable intelligence differences can be eliminated by genetic engineering—unless we prefer maintaining or enhancing these differences instead.
On existential risks:
What makes this knowledge objectionable is the traditional view that the prediction of disaster creates a moral obligation to prevent or mitigate the outcome. However, few people are motivated to promote the welfare of future generations. Thus the knowledge can be harmful by causing a bad conscience. In consequence, a principled argument for prohibition of this knowledge should be based on: (1) the factual claim that people do not care enough about future generations (and even their own children) to give them “good genes” but are still prone to develop bad feelings about it; and (2) the ethical claim that people living today have no obligation to promote the welfare of future generations.