Mike the Mad Biologist

Atrios wonders about William Saletan’s and Andrew Sullivan’s recurrent idiocy about IQ:

The thing about the perpetual attempts to claim that TEH SCIENCE proves that black people really are stupid is that there are two simple fallacies that they are based on.

The first one is that the “intelligence” tests used in the data actually measure some sort of immutable inherent or potential intelligence when in fact people can be educated to do better on the tests.

The second is that race generally or especially as understood in America bears any relationship to the concept of “population” as understood by geneticists.

That these things have been explained to the Saletans and Sullivans of the world over and over and over and over and over again for decades and they still fail to comprehend them tells us… I really don’t know. I have a hard time believing that they really are this stupid.

It’s not that they’re stupid, it’s that they’re willfully ignorant, in the same way that creationists are. Why they are willfully ignorant is a separate question, although it’s either that they’re bigots, or that they like the notion that intelligence (which they conflate with IQ) has a strong genetic component.

In Sullivan’s case, considering that he is a conservative, the idea that intelligence is largely heritable is probably appealing because it undercuts the liberal notion that people can be made smarter if we try hard enough–this reinforces the ‘natural order’ of things, which is a conservative ideal. In other words, genetic predetermination fits nicely with conservatism–it’s 21st century Social Darwinism.

Saletan is just a contrarian asshole.

Comments

  1. #1 Ktesibios
    November 19, 2007

    Mike, the best explanation for what has Atrios so puzzled was published by Benchley in 1936:

    “If we hadn’t anything to hang our own superiority on, we should be sunk. We should be just like the Egyptians, or the Eskimos, or Grandpa.”

  2. #2 Colugo
    November 19, 2007

    I would argue that while Sullivan and Saletan are wrong – because the position that there are significant genetically determined differences in intelligence potential between human populations is incorrect – those two reasons are not the primary reasons why the race-intelligence theory is wrong.

    The main reason why the race-IQ theory is wrong is because the balance of evidence suggests that population differences in certain cognitive performance measures are due to developmental conditions – education, enrichment, toxins, psychosocial stress, nutrition. In addition, there is little theoretical basis to expect that human macro-populations should differ markedly in genetic potential for intelligence, while there are good reasons for expecting populations to be very similar in potential. Not because of Gould’s weak “there wasn’t enough time for divergence” hypothesis. Because of a Red Queen effect in a context of competitive-cooperative hypersociality.

    True, the IQ results lack validity to some extent. Specifically, the notion that sub-Saharan Africans have mean IQs in the 60s and 70s – are borderline or mildly retarded – is preposterous on its face. In addition, a single African population may have very different means on tests administered years apart. Populations differ on familiarity and practice with these kinds of tests, and the cultural appropriateness of a given test varies.

    But the group differential outcomes of the tests are not totally misleading. They reflect relative developmental privilege and deprivation. That is why historically similar differences have been found in Eastern European immigrants vs Anglo-Americans, Sephardic Jews vs Ashkenazim, and Irish vs English. Like group differences in lifespan or infant mortality rate, they suggest structural and other inequalities that can be ameliorated, not inferior genes nor wholly useless measures.

    The issue of whether or not “race” is a valid category is actually of little importance to this issue. A hereditarian theory of group inequality could easily accommodate clinal distributions of intelligence potential or lots of unequal small populations rather than continental macro-populations (or demes or races or subspecies). The race issue has long been conflated with the population differences in IQ potential issue. Another issue sometimes confused with race-IQ is whether there are individual differences in intelligence potential within populations.

  3. #3 Carter
    November 19, 2007

    “race generally or especially as understood in America bears any relationship to the concept of “population” as understood by geneticists”

    That isn’t true:

    “Some have argued for poor correspondence between these two entities (Lewontin 1972; Wilson et al. 2001), whereas others have suggested a strong correlation (Risch et al. 2002; Burchard et al. 2003). We have shown a nearly perfect correspondence between genetic cluster and SIRE for major ethnic groups living in the United States, with a discrepancy rate of only 0.14%.”

    Greg Cochran points out in comments over at DeLong’s:

    “If you look at SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), you can tell race by a genetic sample almost every time.

    You could even tell from a DNA sample that an undiscovered perp was 90% Caucasian and 10% Amerindian, if that happened to be the case.

    More than that – a high proportion of the alleles that vary a lot in frequency between racial groups have been subject to strong selection. They do something significant. This had to be true, really, or how else could those frequencies diverged between different populations in the relatively short time available since the expansion out of Africa? Drift is not strong enough to generate such differences.”

    You said, “the idea that intelligence is largely heritable is probably appealing because it undercuts the liberal notion that people can be made smarter if we try hard enough,” but if liberals can make people smarter how come they never do it? Asians and whites from poor families score higher on the math SAT than the children of wealthy, highly educated blacks. If “people can be made smarter” you would think this gap could be erased rather easily. But for some reason liberals can’t be bothered to do it.

  4. #4 hmmm
    November 19, 2007

    Saletan also happens to think he’s genetically superior for being jewish, c.f. article a few weeks ago, in another cringe-inducing article. All very convenient isn’t it, this IQ thing?

  5. #5 Blake Emerson
    November 20, 2007

    Saletan is not merely wrong; he is, wittingly or unwittingly aiding and abetting the cause of racist politics. Because the research he cites was published in a public policy and law journal, the authors give us an unusually candid appraisal of what kinds of policy prescriptions these alleged biological facts would entail. Rushton and Jensen assert that because racial differences in IQ appear to have a genetic basis,

    ?a demonstration of differential racial performance (good or bad) could not, by itself, be offered as proof of racial discrimination because, as the evidence review in this article demonstrates, genetic factors play a role in producing these differences. Rather, the burden would be on the plaintiffs to prove that the defendants had discriminated on the basis of race and not educational or vocational performance associated with race? (282).

    Rushton and Jensen wrongly imply that a demonstration of differential racial performance can, by itself, be offered as legal proof of racial discrimination. The law currently requires proof of intent. So Rushton and Jensen?s proposal would make discrimination cases based on racial disparity virtually impossible to prove, since the plaintiff would have to prove, first, that the disparity cannot be accounted for by genetic racial inferiority, and, second, that the disparity was the result of intentional discrimination. If Rushton and Jensen have their way, there would be no recourse to discrimination law for even severe racial disparity in health, education, or income level, or wealth. Further, through their research, Rushton and Jensen explicitly aim to discredit affirmative action, and criticism of racial bias in standardized testing (282-3)…

    read on at: http://radicalnegative.blogspot.com/2007/11/j-rushton-arthur-jensen-and-william.html

  6. #6 Jo Presse
    March 18, 2008

    Correlation does NOT mean causation. Maybe the lower iq scores that are being cited are more related to the fact that white christians write these exams in a culturally biased way than to genetics.

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