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Race/IQ: Is It "Game Over"?
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TAC-RaceIQ Given the vast outpouring of agitated and angry remarks by those bloggers and commenters whose long-cherished beliefs have been challenged by my Race/IQ article, it’s always very nice to discover a supportive voice, even if I might not necessary agree with absolutely every single point made.

For example, Jason Antrosio’s popular academic blog “Living Anthropologically” just yesterday published a lengthy analysis of my article and the controversy it had generated under the very flattering title “Race IQ—Game Over.” The author, a professor of anthropology on the East Coast whose blog has accumulated a remarkable 8,800 Likes, suggested that my analysis might constitute a far more effective refutation of the “strong hereditarian IQ position” than those previously made by such notable academics as Jared Diamond and Stephen Jay Gould, whose “extremely weak rebuttals…would be dismissed, in a kind of ‘that’s all you have?’ sort of way.” He now suggests that individuals seriously challenged by racialists on the topic “can declare game over on Race/IQ—see Unz 2012.”

After all, my “research” had largely consisted of reading the books and data of Richard Lynn and his allies, and pointing out that the actual evidence seemed to directly contract the sweeping theory they seemingly advanced, making it quite difficult to challenge my arguments without abandoning Lynn’s data and methodology; and these have long constituted the central core of the racialist framework for cross-national IQ studies.

Indeed, some of my critics have already taken this exact route. For example, anthropologist Peter Frost seems to be arguing that almost none of the world’s IQ or even quasi-IQ data (PISA, Wordsum) is reliable enough for us to draw any ethnic conclusions whatsoever— we jus’ don’ know nuthin’—a position which would seem to place him very close to the Gouldians in ultimate conclusions.

My own position is far less extreme, and also less conclusive than Antrosio’s sweeping appraisal. I am merely arguing that there seems overwhelming evidence against the “Strong IQ Hypothesis,” but also admitting that a “Weak IQ Hypothesis”—which suggests a much more limited genetic influence upon IQ—remains perfectly consistent with all the available evidence, whether or not it actually happens to be true.

Consider once again the telling case of Ireland—English-speaking, culturally and socio-economically West European, and located right next door to Britain, which had controlled it for many centuries. Based on Lynn’s research, there seems overwhelming evidence that the Irish IQ was nearly a full standard deviation lower than the British IQ around 1970, but has now seemingly converged, at least based on PISA results and per capita GDPs, representating a rate of change totally absurd from any genetic or plausibly biological perspective. Furthermore, this pattern of rapid convergence is supported by quite a number of intermediate IQ scores during intervening decades provided by Lynn, and is also totally consistent with the above-average IQs of (self-identified) Irish-Americans.

None of this proves that the Irish and British have precisely the same innate potential IQ. Perhaps the Irish are a bit brighter than the British, or perhaps they are a bit dimmer, and presumably this could be determined by various types of exhaustively controlled experiments. But it seems extremely unlikely that such innate differences—if they do exist—accounted for more than a small fraction of the vast 13 point IQ gap which just recently separated the two populations. Some other external factor, very possibly huge differences in urbanization, was the probable explanation.

Similar, though somewhat less extreme evidence of relatively rapid changes in tested IQ apply to many other major European peoples, such as the South Italians, Greeks, South Slavs, Germans, and Dutch, changes which also seem highly unlikely to have a primarily biological explanation. If South Italians and Greeks are far dimmer than the Dutch in Europe, but far brighter in America, while this same exact reversal occurs between South Slavs and Germans in those two locations, genetic factors hardly seem the most plausible explanation. And if “environmental” factors of whatever type can account for such huge differences between separated populations which are relatively close in culture and socio-economic conditions, we should be quite cautious in quickly affixing a genetic or biological explanation to Lynn’s often small and perhaps unrepresentative IQ samples from desperately impoverished Third World countries such as the Congo, Ethiopia, or Bangladesh.

Thus, I am hardly ruling out all possible genetic or biological explanations for IQ differences, but merely arguing that these usually seem far smaller than Lynn and his ardent admirers appear to believe, especially in those cases—such as among relatively affluent European populations—in which our actual data seems most solid and reliable, and least likely to be heavily distorted by horrific levels of physical and cultural deprivation.

Obviously, such nuances in my analysis are hardly recognized by the throng of angry “Lynnists” found all around the Internet, for whom a biological explanation of IQ seems like an all or nothing matter. For example, one racialist blogsite has now published almost a dozen separate posts on my article, attracting a vast number of angry comments and commenters. The latest, which focused once again on the contentious issue of Irish IQ, has already attracted almost 100 comments, some more useful than others. Jason Malloy, a prominent IQ commenter, claims to have personally reviewed the huge 1972 study suggesting a very low Irish IQ, and judged it well done and seemingly quite reliable. Meanwhile, a particularly “excitable” commenter slurred Lynn as obviously being a fanatic anti-Irish bigot, whose KKK- or Nazi-style hatred of the Irish rendered his Irish conclusions worthless; but the same good fellow seems to still totally accept all of Lynn’s similar research results for non-white populations.

ORDER IT NOW

Finally, I was very pleased to see a lengthy and excellent discussion of my article by Ron Bailey, the science correspondent for Reason Magazine, America’s leading libertarian publication. While I’m obviously gratified to receive such a vast outpouring of (admittedly rather hostile) attention on somewhat obscure racialist blogsites, I’m also hoping that my arguments will eventually begin reaching a broader audience as well, and certainly the coverage in Reason.com is an important step in this direction. And I was also pleased to see another another lengthy overview of the dispute by Tom Schoenfeld, a neurobiologist whose blog focuses on issues of “Public Science.”

I certainly wouldn’t say the Race/IQ debate is “Game Over,” but at least things do seem to be moving in the right direction.

(Republished from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: IQ, Race/IQ 
The Race/IQ Series
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  1. Dear Ron,

    Thank you for courageously publishing on these matters and defending your position. Hang in there!

    You may not have noticed this link, but “Mike the Mad Biologist” is also taking a look at your work and has an interesting take: The Alabama-Massachusetts IQ Gap, German Style.

    I also thank you for reading my analysis. I would first clarify that although I would love to be a “popular academic blog,” I am merely a bit player among anthropology blogs, or in other words a marginal voice in a marginalized discipline at a small liberal arts college. The Facebook likes are somewhat illusory. You could have far more likes if you put your mind to it.

    I would also say that my declaring your article to mean “game over” is more an analysis of the socio-political situation around this research. Obviously the diehards will never concede. They will be vehemently denouncing your article for years to come. But what interests me here is how well you have basically pushed what was a marginal position into the extreme fringes, which is why I do think this is “game over,” at least for all practical purposes.

    Your analysis seems to show there has been wrong-headed thinking on IQ. Sure, like height IQ is heritable, and let’s just say it is at .8, as heritable as height. But people who are malnourished come in at considerably less than their genetic potential. It may take a few generations at full nourishment to reach height potential, but it’s a relatively quick move. That seems to be what’s happened with the IQ scores, that people for the reasons you cite–poverty, education, rural deprivation, and perhaps others we don’t fully understand–were underperforming potential. It can take a few generations, but under the right conditions, average IQs get a lot closer. As you note, there may be still some small variation between populations, and of course there will always be a range of variation within populations, but that’s not at all what the hardline race-IQ people have made it out to be.

    My question is if you think your analysis should be used to try and change any of the facts-on-the-ground, so to speak. Would you recommend different kinds of policies–domestic and international–based on this analysis? Would you suggest different kinds of research funding based on this analysis? How might these findings contribute to making a difference in the world?

    While like you, I do feel–with some relief–that things are moving in the “right direction,” I do wonder if any of this matters.

    Thank you again,
    Jason

    P.S. While reading through some of your posts, noted your thoughts on the passing of Alexander Cockburn at the end of Unz on Race/IQ – Rejecting the Ostrich Response. Indeed a tragic loss, and may we all share and learn from Cockburn’s courage.

  2. ryan says:

    Your arguments suggest that the ‘strong hereditarians’ need be committed to a position that large iq differences between distinct populations are always the result of genetic factors. However, this seems to me to be a uncharitable interpretation. A hereditarian could argue that such differences are often, or sometimes, the result of genetic factors.
    In fact, perhaps an even more inflammatory position, one certainly worthy of the appellation ‘strong hereditarianism’ insofar as it requires a rejection of the ‘moderate consensus ‘ or ‘beltway party line ‘ regarding universal educability, no-child left behind ect, is that large iq differences between populations are usually the result of environmental or social factors but, in a certain set of distinctive cases, are genetical in origin.

    My suspicion is that most sane hereditarians adhere to something like, large iq differences between populations often, or usually have a genetic component. -Which is, obviously, not to say that this position is correct.

  3. ryan says:

    At the start of the third sentence, I intended to write ‘A *strong* hereditarian’

  4. ryan says:

    That is to say, there is nuance in the strong hereditarian position which you neglect. While you chastise strong hereditarians for failing to recognize that your position admits of the possibility of weakly determining genetic factors, thus treating biological causation as ‘all or nothing’, you too quickly accept the position that a single type of explanation (one which may involve some reference to genetical influence, but which primarily relies on environmental causation) will hold for in each case, or nearly so.

    Rather, isn’t it possible (perhaps even probable) that large iq differences between populations will sometimes be largely the result of environment, social or otherwise, and sometimes be the result of genetic factors? …I take it that everyone acknowledges that if a population is subject to malnutrition over a long period of time it’s scores will be depressed. But this does not mean that population differences are never principally genetic in origin.

  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Your arguments suggest that the ‘strong hereditarians’ need be committed to a position that large iq differences between distinct populations are always the result of genetic factors. However, this seems to me to be a uncharitable interpretation. A hereditarian could argue that such differences are often, or sometimes, the result of genetic factors.
    In fact, perhaps an even more inflammatory position, one certainly worthy of the appellation ‘strong hereditarianism’ insofar as it requires a rejection of the ‘moderate consensus ‘ or ‘beltway party line ‘ regarding universal educability, no-child left behind ect, is that large iq differences between populations are usually the result of environmental or social factors but, in a certain set of distinctive cases, are genetical in origin.

    Unz is careful to distinguish hereditarians and racialists.

    Second, if hereditarians retreat to the position that only a few specific racial gaps in IQ are genetic in origin, then the position fails, since they lack a principled way of distinguishing the racial gaps due in IQ from those which aren’t.

    Third, you’re not paying attention to the function of the argument. The holy of holies is a two-part claim: there are racial differences in intelligence between Blacks and Whites, and that difference is irremediable. The appeal to genetics is intended to secure the permanence of the gap. If it turned out that environments were heritable, and that they caused a permanent gap in intelligence, then hereditarians would abandon the genetics. If it turned out that there was a non-heritable environmental factor which caused a permanent racial gap in intelligence between Black and White, then hereditarians would become environmentalists.

    My suspicion is that most sane hereditarians adhere to something like, large iq differences between populations often, or usually have a genetic component.

    As before, the point of the appeal to the genetic component is to secure irremediability. If it turned out that there were intrinsic, permanent IQ gaps between Blacks and Whites, but that those gaps were due to some permanent fact of the environment, rather than genetics, then hereditarians would convert to environmentalism.

  6. ryan says:

    I agree that immitigability is the essential issue. I take it that both sides find it unlikely ( though not impossible) that environments, no matter how heritable, would display the sort of inalterability (once the relevant feature is identified), in the face of concerted effort, which we associate with a genetically hardwired trait. Especially because humans already vary in these traits, so if the trait has an environmental source, clearly some humans have been exposed to the sort of environment which improves it.

    You may contend that the history of social engineering failures suggest that environments are quite inalterable. However, environments seem difficult to manipulate mostly because we dont know what features to manipulate to get the results we want, or whether there is an environmental feature at all. The issue is primarily epistemic, not ontological.

    More importantly, simply because environment is an important causal factor, which can be manipulated to remedy an iq gap, in some cases, does not mean that environment is an important causal factor that can be manipulated to close the gap in all cases. There is no reason to think that all cases of iq gaps involve the same kinds of causal factors.

    Take the extreme example of malnutrition or severe educational deprivation: everyone, even racialists, agree that malnutrition, or educational deprivation, can depress the iq in a population. Yet, strong-hereditarians and racialists seem to also hold that in most cases, or certain key cases, environmental manipulation won’t help to close the gap.

    They are thus, already, committed to a position that in different cases, different causal factors may be relevant. Does this mean they have no principled way of distinguishing these distinct kinds of cases? Of course not, there are ways of isolated these factors.

    Often, iq researchers make ‘twin studies’ to supplement the national iq data. These twin studies can provide a ‘principled reason’ for determining when national gaps are environmental and when they are genetical in origin.

    Why should we think that the forces that determine a trait as complex as intelligence are unitary? Too many seem to be looking for a holy grail, catch-all explanation (often while claiming a false ecumenism). Matters are probably much more complicated.

  7. hbd chick says: • Website

    @ron – “…one racialist blogsite…”

    for the record, i am not a “racialist” blogger. i am a human biodiversity blogger. i blog about all sorts of differences between all sorts of human populations, not just races. in fact, i tend to mostly write about ethnic groups.

    the fact that my blog is called “hbd chick” and not “racialist chick” should’ve been your first clue.

  8. Severn says:

    Jason Malloy, a prominent IQ commenter, claims to have personally reviewed the huge 1972 study suggesting a very low Irish IQ, and judged it well done and seemingly quite reliable.

    That study is preposterous. That study clams that the urban/non-urban IQ gap in Ireland was in excess of twenty points. Note that this is many times greater than any other urban/non-urban discrepancy on record. In fact it’s greater than most racial variances – the white/black variance in the US is a mere 15 points or so. It would appear that the urban centers of Ireland were populated at the time by people of a completely different racial background to those outside them.

  9. Severn says:

    the holy of holies is a two-part claim: there are racial differences in intelligence between Blacks and Whites, and that difference is irremediable.

    Are there still intelligent people left who think that this is even up for debate? There are differences in the intelligence of whites and blacks. These differences are not remediable via tinkering with educational policy or “the culture”. The US has spent a staggering sum of money over the last fifty years in proving this very point.

    I would not go so far as to say that the differences are logically irremediable. An all powerful dictator could mandate certain actions which might change things, chiefly by mandating more intermarriage. But practically speaking and for our current understanding of genetic engineering, the
    differences are irremediable.

  10. ryan says:

    The iq debate is marred by, perhaps unconscious, efforts on both sides to establish a ‘general theory’ of the cause of large iq gaps between populations. Such a theory would explain the causal forces at play in all cases of ‘gaps’ . But we should be skeptical that any such ‘general theory’ will work. Social science usually does not admit of such things.

    We already know that there are all sorts of very diverse environmental causes of large population level iq gaps: malnutrition, disease, exposure to toxins, educational deprivation… to name a few. But given the state of evidence with respect to twin studies ect..it looks like genetics constitutes one of the possible causes of such gaps.

  11. One of the interesting things is that this shows it is probably more sensitive to say there are group differences between Hispanic or black Americans with europeans, than to say that there are differences between Ashkenazi Jews and other whites. Steven Pinker’s comments would suggest this. Pinker comments to Unz:

    “In the case of racial differences within the United States, Jensen and Rushton do have additional data, such as that when socioeconomic status, income, education, and the like are all thrown into a regression, the black-white gap doesn’t go away; the fact that the children of black and white couples matched in IQ regress to different means; and others. This is not to endorse their arguments, just to say that if Lynn has similar ancillary data (other than the existence of variation) then your arguments are not enough to prove that the genetic contribution to group differences is 0; all you’ve shown is that it’s less than 100 percent, which Lynn has always acknowledged.”

    Yet Pinker applies this very same reasoning for innate group-wide differences when asserting the reality of a genetic basis for Ashkenazi jewish/non-jewish white differences. If you accept there may be genetic factors involved in Jewish/White gentile IQ differences, then it is plausible they could in other group differences?

    But Pinker obviously has to be more careful in the latter case to avoid the James Watson response.

    Also, in respect of obsurce bloggers who have nonetheless looked closely at the TIMMS, PISA and SAT data, I note ‘Chuck’ has a recent post up looking at Ron’s claim concerning SAT results.

    “It can be seen that there was a secular narrowing in the overall White-Hispanics NAEP math and reading gaps. If one compares the earliest points to the latest this represents a 30-40% narrowing. But this large decrease is partially illusionary. A portion of it is attributable to the 2004 NAEP format change. In 2004, a linking study was conducted in which both formats were presented to random samples. It can be seen that relative to Whites, Hispanics perform 0.2 SD better on the newer format. Taking the effect of the format change into account, the White-overall Hispanics gap narrowed only 15-30%. Similar results can be seen in the case of the White-English only Hispanic gaps, which, we said above, approximates the White-Hispanic 2nd + gen ones.”

    Also, the author notes that contrary to Ron’s claim that “the 3rd+ Hispanic generation is very small”, in fact over 1/3rd of H adolescent students are 3rd generation. And English only Hispanic speakers are not concentrated in rural areas. So the rural/urban divide cannot explain the White-Hispanic gap. Third gen Hispanics have much higher SES but littler higher SAT/ACT/PSAT scores relative to their first and second generation peers.

    I would be interested in Ron’s response.

    http://tinyurl.com/9ol877t

    *** attention on somewhat obscure racialist blogsites***

  12. […] Race/IQ – Is It “Game Over”? Ron Unz/The American Conservative, August 10, 2012 […]

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