Weekend Diversion: Against Scientific Racism

"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence." -Frederick Douglass

I thought we were past this, I really did. Having grown up in New York, having lived in eight different states and traveled to 39 others -- as well as maybe a dozen different countries -- I truly thought there were a few things that were obvious. One of them, of course, is that you've got to give something a shot to know whether you like it or not. Hopefully, no matter who, where, or what you are, you'll enjoy this upbeat song by Bob Schneider as much as I do, so have a listen to


Another, even more fundamentally simple and obvious one, is that people are individuals, and ought to be judged solely on their merits as individuals. You might be tempted to make generalizations about someone based on your preconceptions about their race, their gender, their country-of-origin, their sexual orientation, etc., but at the end of the day, each one of us is an individual.

And in no way -- to me, at least -- is that more obvious than when it comes to studying the Universe.

Image credit: Tanja Sund. Image credit: Tanja Sund of http://astrotanja.com/.

Which brings up my point: do you think race, gender, or ancestry determines who can or cannot succeed in a given career?

If the answer isn't a swift and immediate "of course not" for you, congratulations, you might be a scientific racist! I would've thought this had gone out of fashion after World War II, and I certainly didn't think I'd encounter it ever in my lifetime. In a famous statement all the way back in 1950, UNESCO had the following to say:

The biological fact of race and the myth of 'race' should be distinguished. For all practical social purposes ‘race’ is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. The myth of 'race' has created an enormous amount of human and social damage. In recent years, it has taken a heavy toll in human lives, and caused untold suffering.

And yet, here we are, studying things like gender-and-math-aptitude or IQ-and-race like these are actual sciences.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons user Quizkajer. Image credit: Wikimedia commons user Quizkajer.

There are some of you out there who have no idea why this is offensive, why this isn't science, and why this is racist.

Let me try to put this in perspective for you.

How do you feel when you see unequal treatment, based on race, in situations such as this?

Image credit: Alexandra Dal of http://alexandradal.tumblr.com/. Image credit: Alexandra Dal of http://alexandradal.tumblr.com/.

Do I need to explain to you why this is offensive, why this is racist, or why this is grossly unfair treatment? Do I need to explain to you that the person on the left and the person on the right in each case deserve to be treated equally, regardless of what any test, statistic or study has said about outcomes?

Here's why, for those of you who need the explanation: Every person in this world deserves to be treated with the dignity and respect that we, ourselves, would like to be treated with.

The idea that tests like an "IQ Test," the "SATs" or the "GREs" are somehow indicators of what races or genders are better suited to certain types of careers are meritless, not borne out by evidence, and also incredibly offensive. And yet, you can apparently get a Ph.D. in this from Harvard.

Image credit: screenshot from Jon Wiener's blog at http://www.thenation.com/. Image credit: screenshot from Jon Wiener's blog at http://www.thenation.com/.

This. Is. Not. Okay.

People have been using studies like this to argue about genetic inferiority for centuries, contending that some races are genetically inferior, the female gender is inferior at math, and that this makes them ill-suited to careers that involve heavy amounts of math/science/detail-oriented work.

And yet, if you've ever gone to school or met a substantial number of human beings of any race, gender, or ancestry, that notion seems like utter lunacy. It's as plain to me as it was to Charles Sumner nearly 200 years ago.

Image credit: Theoretical Particle Physics at SISSA, via http://www.sissa.it/tpp/. Image credit: Theoretical Particle Physics at SISSA, via http://www.sissa.it/tpp/.

Everyone should be not only allowed but encouraged to pursue their interests and passions, and should be granted the opportunity to develop their skills and do their best. We have a terrible track record of denying women their deserved place in scientific history, and despite the incredible successes of women and people of color in all sorts of arenas of life, we still stereotype that somehow, white (and maybe asian, too) men are simply innately better-suited to becoming scientists.

After all, you've probably heard the story of Carl Sagan's first encounter with science when he was a boy, when he received a toy robot:

But the most fascinating things about this, was a panel you could take off the side of it, and you could actually see inside, all the gears and all the workings inside. After that, I was hooked. I had to see how all these things worked. I was always in competition with my... brother, to find out who could be the smartest, who knows the most about how everything worked.

Except I lied to you. That's not Carl Sagan's story; it's Vincent Rodgers' story!

Image credit: University of Iowa, via http://siena.cs.uiowa.edu/~vrodgers/. Image credit: University of Iowa, via http://siena.cs.uiowa.edu/~vrodgers/.

The idea that someone would be denied the opportunity to pursue their dream career for any reason other than their own individual merits is absolutely bigoted, and always wrong.

So this week, I was heartened to come across something simple and straightforward being done to fight this evil, but almost no one has heard about it. Let's change that together; allow me to introduce to you Scholars Against Scientific Racism.

Image credit: Scholars Against Scientific Racism. Image credit: Scholars Against Scientific Racism.

Rather than focus on the latest egregious offense in this vein, let's focus on ending this garbage once and for all. There's a simple google document (I tested it, there's no malware or anything) that you can sign your name to to say that this line of thinking has no scientific merits when it comes to crafting public or social policy, and does not deserve to be studied as though it does. Let's get the racism, sexism and bigotry out of science once and for all, and we can start by fighting against this garbage:

Dean Ellwood at Harvard Kennedy School takes the position that this dissertation is part of an academic debate. We are not against academic freedom. However, there is no academic debate on whether or not Hispanics as a group are less intelligent than native-born whites. There are debates on whether or not Hispanic is a pan-ethnic, ethnic, or racialized category. There are debates on how and whether or why we should measure intelligence. There are debates on the extent to which intelligence is a heritable trait. But, there are no debates on whether or not Latino immigrants have the intellectual caliber to be part of the United States. Those kinds of debates happen in nativist and white supremacist circles, which have no place in academia, which prizes arguments and debates based on valid constructs and scientific evidence.

It's not science, and it's not right. Let's do our part to make sure that people are judged on their merits as people, nothing less and nothing more.


More like this

Nature, the publishing group, not the Mother, has taken Darwin's 200th as an opportunity to play the race card (which always sells copy) and went ahead and published two opposing views on this question: "Should scientists study race and IQ? The answers are Yes, argued by Stephen Cici and Wendy…
Dan MacArthur has started a big discussion on whether or not the relationship between IQ and race should be studied. Inspired by a pair of essays for and against the idea it has created a pretty healthy debate among the sciencebloggers including Razib with whom I will likely never agree on this…
The post from yesterday was inspired by the news coverage surrounding the paper describing gene expression differences (DOI) between human populations. The original article uses neither the term 'race' nor the term ''Caucasian''. Instead, what would normally be called 'races' are referred to as '…
"Acceptance is not love. You love a person because he or she has lovable traits, but you accept everybody just because they're alive and human." -Albert Ellis In my experience as a human being, I've seen far too often what evils can come from judging people who are different from you and the groups…


Usually, i dont like declamatory speeches. It gives me the goosepimples and ring all kinds of alarm bells in my head. Because declamatory speeches are used to manipulate people to do something incredibly stupid. But in this case, I make an exception, because Edward James Olmos hit the nail on its head.

"There is no academic debate on ..."

Who decides? The very fact that there was a recent dissertation suggests there IS debate. The dissertation was likely advised by experts on the topic. This letter signed by "scholars" is a rambling mess going on about history, not scientific methods, suggesting irrelevant or tangential expertise. As an outsider, it's not exactly confidence-inspiring.

Also I'm curious about the claim that the following are discredited ideas: "1) the argument that I.Q. scores are an indication of innate intelligence; and 2) the assertion that I.Q. is a genetic trait;".

That's a bold statement and it doesn't quite pass the smell test. But I'm not in the field of psychology and maybe there's been a paradigm shift and I'm just behind the times. Could someone point to a review paper that establishes that there's a consensus in psychology that these ideas have been rejected?

I've learned to be a little skeptical of sweeping claims by social "scientists". Many seem to struggle with trivial math and may not understand that you can't wish away things you don't like by stating "correlation doesn't imply causation".

Sadly it's not just racism that hurts scientific progress. The positive side of being seen to not be racist can leave many stones unturned, and that can have unforseen impacts.

Take left-handedness for example. There are two levels of data on people who are left handed. The easy-to-find data is all about how left handed people are either the same, or have advantages. If you are looking for a correlation between left handedness and crime, drug use, or mental illness, then it's there, but it's buried where the protesters can't find it (or at least can't get it removed).

Rather sad because it leads to no scientist remembering to include left handedness as a confound when trying to show a meaningful link between, say, cannabis use and mental illness or crime. When taking left-handedness into account, these associations are seriously weakened, and when you also look at high intelligence being a risk-factor, they are weakened further still.

How many left handed highly intelligent mentally ill cannabis users have been denied access to university because of their left-handedness? Probably very few.
How many views are immediately discounted for no reason other than the holder of the view uses a certain drug (other than alcohol!) or is perceived to be a user of a certain drug?

How difficult is it for someone who has suffered or enjoyed psychosis to contribute meaningfully to our understanding of psychosis?

When you can see and treat all drug users and abstainers as equals, that's when we'll believe you are truly non-prejudiced. You may no longer believe the now-disproved myth that people of colour use more drugs than white people, but I bet you still believe some shockingly awful myths about white people who use drugs.

Approx illegal drug use rates (whites):

Working / employed = 8%
Unemployed / not working = 2%
Social security dependants = <0.5%

In case you are wondering, thieves, drug dealers, and prostitutes are all in the 'Working' group, whether they are also defrauding social security or not.

“There is no academic debate on …”

Who decides?


Who else did you think?

So let me roll a hand grenade onto the floor.

On the subject of science and racism, I would like to ask a question for which I have never heard a satisfactory response. It should be easy – because from a purely scientific perspective the answer should be obvious. But for some reason, other factors get in the way.

The Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) is a large kangaroo of southern and eastern Australia. It is virtually identical to the Western Grey Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus), but there are minor morphological differences and they have different ranges. Their ranges overlap slightly, and it is not unusual in this overlapping area for the different species to interbreed. Despite this, the two kangaroos are considered to be two different species. There are many other examples of this in the animal kingdom, with the only real differences between two similar species being range and minor morphological characteristics.

So why is this related to science and racism?

Well, ‘Asian’ humans and ‘African’ humans (and others) differ only in home range and minor morphological differences (skin colour, eye and nose shape, etc). We can and do interbreed, just as other closely related animal species do. So why are the different ‘races’ of humans not considered to be different species, justr as they are in other animals?

In all other cases in the animal kingdom that I can think of, such differences would be sufficient for the relevant populations to be considered separate and distinct species. But for some reason we don’t apply the same scientific rigour to ourselves.

Why is that?

Oh – and hopefully any responses will be rational, rather than being abusive and / or accusing me of racism. I am not suggesting that one ‘race’ is superior – I just want to know why we apply different scientific criteria between ourselves and other animals.

@ Ethan

From your post:

It’s not science, and it’s not right. Let’s do our part to make sure that people are judged on their merits as people, nothing less and nothing more.

Nothing more? That is not what affirmative action is all about.

Science by core raw data is not racist. If someone were to come to create the data above like the wikimedia commons, then that's what the data is. Data isn't sentient and can't be racist.

The practices we perform and the conclusions we make are. Was there measure put in place to factor in poor educational standards? Self-esteem amongst racial groups?

Studies on racial groups need to be performed, if only to highlight the effects racism can have on a group. The conclusions we make from data are racist.

@ #4 "Wow"

I'm pretty sure the Harvard dissertation committee was composed of academics. Don't worry, I'm sure your mother still thinks you're clever.

What I do about this when I encounter it:

1) Grant them the data but not the conclusion. "IF we assume your data are correct, do they give you any basis to draw presumptive conclusions about specific individuals and deny them opportunities?" This usually throws them off their game. Follow up with "Then why assert a distinction that makes no difference? What purpose does it serve?" Usually they have no answer for that. Let the question stand and it will gnaw on them and possibly change their attitude.

2) When dealing with someone who is incorrigible, "Jealousy is not a Christian virtue." They'll typically get flustered and ask what you're referring to. Follow-up, "Clearly you're jealous that there are a lot of black and latino folks out there who are smarter than you are. If I were you I'd change my tune and start praying for forgiveness."

3) When dealing with someone who is not only incorrigible but also promotes overt racism as policy: use psychiatrist Milton Erickson's technique of "prescribing the symptom," for example: "Yeah, you're right, those people are animals. Hmm, know what? We ought to just raise them for food. The ones who show any kind of talent can be plucked out of the herd, but the rest ought to end up in the Meat aisle at Safeway." This will usually trigger the anti-cannibalism instinct that even racists have. Follow-up: "So, you're admitting they're human? OK, so then what part of 'all God's children' don't you understand?"

Yes, two out of three of these entail using theological references, but none the less, "do what works."


BTW, re. "judging individuals on their merits," I have a modest proposal: let's stop judging people. Let's stop being so eager to judge our fellow humans, whether as individuals or as members of groups, or even if we've walked a mile in their moccasins. Let's get over the insane obsession with competition and judgement as the paradigm for all of life's issues, and let's just get along and cooperate. 400 PPM of CO2 says, it's now or never.

And re. talking to high school kids: If they're 9th - 11th grade, "What excites you in school right now?" That covers academics, athletics, and the arts. If they're in 12th grade, "What are your plans after you graduate?" That covers college, the military, and going right into the workforce. Follow-up: "Say more, what excites you about (whatever-it-is)?" General paradigm: Give them the space to define themselves, and ask them what's meaningful about their choices. The assumption that everyone is or should be headed straight for college, does a disservice to those who want to (or have to) start work right away, and those who want to serve in the armed forces.

For those who don't plan to go to college, it's still worthwhile to encourage them to take an interest in the sciences and math. Usually there's a route to that from just about anything a person wants to do. Show that it's relevant and they might take an interest. It isn't necessary that everyone be able to discuss Einsteinian relativity or DNA sequences in depth, but basic science literacy makes a huge difference in attitude. When science literacy becomes a social norm, the culture will change.

"Science by core raw data is not racist."

Yes it can.

If you look for correlation then your implicit causation is racist, and if you edit your data to prove your required conclusion (even if it's by merely not reporting any studies that don't come to your preferred conclusion), then the data you've collected is racist propaganda.

And as G says, the conclusions can definitely be propaganda, since it's not data, is it.

The enlightened and anti racist five panel set of cartoons 'Questions' by Alexandra Dal is very educational. It should be posted up in every school and university classroom, not just in the USA but in every country in North America and Europe.

It's no wonder that vast tracts of America's major cities have been made unsafe for the type of person who is known to delight in asking such crass, insensitive and racist questions.

Sorry I don't get it. Why is that IQ-and-race chart offensive (My race has not the highest IQ). I can see how the comic reflects racists views, but how is data presentation offensive. Is it also offensive if the chart is IQ-and-gender, IQ-and-eye colour, IQ-and-political views or IQ-and-country of origin. Sorry about my ignorance.

Thanks Ethan for covering this!

And #2 shine:

Read this. http://vserver1.cscs.lsa.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog/523.html

The beginning:
"Anyone who wanders into the bleak and monotonous desert of IQ and the nature-vs-nurture dispute eventually gets trapped in the especially arid question of what, if anything, g, the supposed general factor of intelligence, tells us about these matters. By calling g a "statistical myth" before, I made clear my conclusion, but none of my reasoning. This topic being what it is, I hardly expect this will change anyone's mind, but I feel a duty to explain myself.

To summarize what follows below ("shorter sloth", as it were), the case for g rests on a statistical technique, factor analysis, which works solely on correlations between tests. Factor analysis is handy for summarizing data, but can't tell us where the correlations came from; it always says that there is a general factor whenever there are only positive correlations. The appearance of g is a trivial reflection of that correlation structure. A clear example, known since 1916, shows that factor analysis can give the appearance of a general factor when there are actually many thousands of completely independent and equally strong causes at work. Heritability doesn't distinguish these alternatives either. Exploratory factor analysis being no good at discovering causal structure, it provides no support for the reality of g. "

By Lotharloo (not verified) on 19 May 2013 #permalink

"Sorry I don’t get it. Why is that IQ-and-race chart offensive"

For the same reason that showing white males are most likely to cause massive financial fraud.

It was "discovered" solely to push an offensive meme.

It may be completely sexist but regardless of the charts showing a narrowing gender gap in mathematics, I still believe the inferior-parietal lobule is larger in males than in females. I also believe that females generally develop the corpus callosum more quickly. These, and many other brain structure differences have real consequences. Males are more likely to be dyslexic or autistic. Females are more prone to depression.

I'm all for being courteous to everyone, but the study of the differences provided by gender, race, environment, how bust size effect waitressing tips, or any other metric should not be off the table simply because it isn't politically correct. THAT is not what science is about.

"I’m all for being courteous to everyone, but the study of the differences provided by gender, race, environment, how bust size effect waitressing tips, or any other metric should not be off the table simply because it isn’t politically correct. THAT is not what science is about."

The study of those things are not off the table. What is off the table is repeating discredited or unproven ideas as if they are widely accepted. What is off the table pretending that the null hypothesis is that differences in complex behavioural or mental patterns is explained by gender/race.

There are a lot of differences between races, cultures, and sexes and it is completely obvious that the vast majority of them are explained by nurture and environment rather than genetics: e.g., Canadians do better in hockey not because they have "evolved" a hockey gene, same with Brazilians when it comes to soccer or Volleyball. Nonetheless, when it comes to "Africans" with running Marathon or African-Americans with basketball, suddenly people think it should be genetics.

So no, unless we understand a phenomenon pretty well and we know how it is caused (e.g., "Men being more muscular than women"), the default position is to assume that it is caused by environmental factors. And we are nowhere close to understand how mental abilities work and how genetics affect them.

By Lotharloo (not verified) on 20 May 2013 #permalink

"and we know how it is caused (e.g., “Men being more muscular than women”)"

By the hormones released by the development of the gender "male". But that doesn't mean that only men produce that effect. Nor that all men produce a significantly different amount.

And a man who doesn't exercise will be weaker than a woman that does.

But what is off the table is the fake-science. The investigation of race vs IQ (or criminality or whatever) is driven not to know how to improve IQ (or reduce criminality or whatever), but to do a Nazi/Stalin pseudoscientific diatribe to describe some other race as "sub human".

But "denier" is a measure of how thick tights are, so his internet handle is entirely appropriate...

mandas, since it sounds like you're honestly asking, I'll try to answer. These days, the simple ability to interbreed isn't considered sufficient to lump two forms as one species. Instead, we look to whether the interbreeding is sufficient to cause gene flow between the two populations -- in many cases, two populations interbreed more or less freely where they meet, but there's little to no evidence that the genes being shared ever show up in the core populations. (Either because hybrids are less able to reproduce, or because those genes are actively selected against as you move away from the hybrid zone.) In the case of humans, it's clear that there's no such limitation.

Also, the comment that the two forms only differ in minor morphological characters isn't necessarily correct. Don't fall into the trap of assuming that characters that aren't easily visible don't matter -- there are visually identical species of insect that show more genetic differentiation than we do with Chimpanzees. Again, with humans, if you start mapping out populations based on genetic traits, you find they don't correlate well with classical "racial" traits -- another indication that gene flow between populations has been important for a long time, and thus that there's no problem considering us all to be a single variable species.

Finally, to get a feel for how much of our ideas of race is culturally based, rather than biological, look into apartheid South Africa's classifications. Or just read Twain's The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson!



Regarding race and species - the usual biological definition assumes different species cannot interbreed. Although there are violations - for example, lion-tiger crossbreeds have been produced and they survive.

Now about race - well, the story of evolution is that isolated populations diverge from each other until they become separate species. Along this continuum there are definitely points where some populations become different from each other along various noticeable traits without being separate species.

So, I'd guess, that the differences in appearance between the races shows that humans were on the way to becoming different species. Maybe given say another 100,000 years of isolation, the races would have become different species.

But in reality, its going the other way as the world grows smaller. So, given several millenia of globalization, the races may actually disappear.

"showing white males are most likely to cause massive financial fraud" contains prediction about future behaviour. This chart does not make future prediction, so you are using a false analogy to make a point. That is clearly an error from your part.

I still don't get why raw data is offensive and I don't belong to "race" showing highest IQ.

You said that "It was “discovered” solely to push an offensive meme." So are you offended because of motivation of the person collecting the data? If so why is the that data and chart actually offensive? Is "IQ-and-gender" data/chart offensive?

If the underlying data for this chart is correct, why is that offensive or racist? If the data is correct it could be used for good to improve the situations. For example goverment could channel funding to improve the equality in society.

psweet / cosmonaut

Thanks for your comments. And yes, I am honestly asking.

By way of background (that perhaps I should have provided up front), I am a wildlife scientist. I work with wildlife all the time – studying them as individuals, as populations, and their interaction with their environment. And in all my work I continually come across species which are so closely related to other species that it is difficult for the lay person to tell them apart. The example I provided of grey kangaroos is one, but there are lots of others (eg amethyst and scrub pythons).

The only appreciable differences between the two species are, as I stated, difference in range and minor morphological characteristics. The reason for that is easy to trace – they were once a single species and a sub-population became isolated and because of various factors started to diverge evolutionally. However, the divergence so far is relatively minor and the two species can still interbreed. Indeed, while it is commonly thought that the definition of a species is that it cannot breed with other species, that is not correct (sorry guys). In fact, there is no hard and fast definition of a species which is universally accepted – which is where many of the problems occur.

And that is why I asked the question about humans. It is clear that exactly the same processes that have occurred in the kangaroos (and many other species) also occurred in humans in the past. Populations of humans moved out of Africa (for whatever reason – density dependant dispersal, declining ecosystem?) and became effectively isolated. As a result, some genetic characteristics became fixed in the population and over time the whole population exhibited those fixed genetic morphological differences to the original. This is so obvious that it does not need to be pointed out.

As psweet has stated, this process is slowly reversing in humans as the individual sub-populations are no longer as isolated as they once were, and interbreeding between the sub-populations is more common. However, that does not change the fact that the divergence had been occurring and eventually (over a very long time) may have resulted in the sub-populations being unable to interbreed. Indeed, this is what occurred between humans and the other great apes, which all had a common ancestor.

So thanks for the responses guys, but I still think the answers provided do not adequately address the original question. There are morphological and range differences between the human ‘races’ (although I dislike that word – it is not a proper biological term), and these differences are greater than the differences between some animals that we describe as distinct species. So why do we not apply the same criteria to ourselves? At the very least, we should be described as different sub-species. If we were being ‘scientific’, we should have done so.

Mandas talks about morphological differences: differences we can see.

Clearly the explanation for those differences lies in the DNA. And just as clearly, there are many more differences in DNA that do not result in visible means of differentiation.

It is currently politically correct, however, to assert that there are no non-morphological differences between human sub-populations. Obviously, this is not science. Just as obviously, it is also extremely unlikely to be correct.

But Ethan's a nice guy, and he's talking about the way individuals get treated.

I have to ask, though - do you buy a poodle, if you want a guard dog?
Cataloguing the traits required to make a good guard dog, and then selecting an individual based on their match to those traits is a very basic and required task when called upon to discriminate.

By Craig Thomas (not verified) on 20 May 2013 #permalink

Eating too much creates a morphological difference too. As does exercise or famine.

Growth hormones will too.

And amputation.

DNA isn't the only mechanism for making a body different from others.

Frank, the data IS racist because there's absolutely no reason to believe that race is a determinant of, for example, criminality.

Therefore the ONLY reason to collect data on race and criminality is to pretend there is.

And the only reason to want to pretend that is because you're a racist.

And concluding from data can be entirely racist. For example, if I look at some data of wealth vs race and find that black people earn less and white people more, I can conclude that white people are stealing money more than other races.

The only reason to come to that conclusion is because I'm playing the race card.

"Militant Feminism" will point to any and all statistics that show men have more power, money, rights or whatever AND IGNORE COMPLETELY any that don't show that or show the opposite, and claim proof that "the patriarchy" is sexist and should be dismantled by removing rights from men.

The reason for all this? They WANT to show there's a patriarchy. And that means the studies they choose are chosen to produce an output that is driven by sexism.

The denial industry look for anything that shows AGW is uncertain or nothing to worry about or nonexistent. The CLOUD experiment was entirely funded for this reason. The BEST project was funded for this. SurfaceStations.org was done for this.

The intent and reason for these to be done was not to promote science but to deny an inconvenient truth. SurfaceStations only select the bad issues (of which there are no effective ones: they do not invalidate the IPCC's report). The data there is picked and therefore tainted by anti-science, even though it *appears* to be a scientific study.

Shine: I’m pretty sure the Harvard dissertation committee was composed of academics.

So why did you ask? I'm certain you thought you were being clever. You weren't.


It seems to me that you are implying that anyone who would investigate the difference in IQ scores between people of different races is doing so for racist purposes. Undoubtedly this has been true in historical practice, but I don't think that it's necessarily true in general. For instance, suppose a study of IQ scores by race is done by a test creator to determine whether the test is culturally biased in some way. Presumably the assumption of the test maker is that the scores would be comparable (perhaps with controls for socioeconomic status put in place) among different races. Any differences due to race would be attributed to a bias in the test rather than an inherent difference between the capabilities of members of the different racial groups. How would such a study be racist?

"Undoubtedly this has been true in historical practice, but I don’t think that it’s necessarily true in general. "

So prove that statement. Did you get anything to inform that statement, or did you just use "gut feeling"?

"For instance, suppose a study of IQ scores by race is done by a test creator to determine whether the test is culturally biased in some way"

Why did they look? What causation would be doing this, even if it were the case? What would the result be?

No reason to think that this would be the case because the link between the two is nonexistent.

Any statistical result tested to a 95% confidence limit would give a positive result from the completely random selection of 20 studies, even if there were absolutely no correlation.

"Presumably the assumption of the test maker is that the scores would be comparable "

But they are. What isn't comparable is looking again and again to find something racial in the marking or tests, because one in 20 will give you a false positive. Do 1000 tests and you have 50 studies concluding that the case is real.

How useful was that?

What's racist is why this keeps getting looked at.

Short version: Ask yourself "Why were they looking?" and apply occam.


I told you (in my hypothetical example) why they were looking. Is the test racially biased? How else would you expect to determine whether your test is racially biased? You give the test to members of different racial groups, preferably a large number of members of each group, and compare scores. Since there is no significant difference in intelligence across racial lines, statistically significant differences in scores indicate a bias in the test.

I am well aware of statistics. I know that just by random chance a 95% statistical significance level will sometimes be observed when no difference exists. However, to combat this, you extend my above example to a second set of test takers and see if the racial differences persist. If you get TWO independent data sets indicating a 95+% significance level, it's much more difficult to argue that the difference is not real.

In general, I don't think that the results themselves are racist or non-racist. It's just data. Obviously, the data could be generated by those with racist motivation. Equally obviously, the data can be interpreted and racist conclusions can be reached from it. However, a set of numbers is just that, a set of numbers.

I don't think it's racist to say that, for instance, there is a statistically significant difference between the scores of blacks and those of whites on a particular IQ test (obviously it's not racist only if that is actually a true statement). It is racist to say that any particular individual who happens to be black is less intelligent than another who happens to be white. It's also racist to say that on a statistical basis blacks tend to be less intelligent than whites. There may be issues with the validity of IQ tests, there may be confounding variables such as socioeconomic status that explain the difference in test scores, or there may be biases in the test that cause the score difference.

I told you (in my hypothetical example)

That would rather be the problem, Sean.

You're presupposing that it isn't racist and then using that as "proof" that it can't always be racist.

Begging the question, that is.

However, to combat this, you extend my above example to a second set of test takers and see if the racial differences persist.

However, that pre-supposes that this was brought up for genuine inquiry before and that this person genuinely wants to find out if it's true of false.

This is pretty easy to see being ABSOLUTELY NOT THE CASE for denier reports. See, for example:


Or this:


Do you wonder why Ridley is jumping on this paper? Because this is the one outlier that he wants to support. If the paper gets refuted, do you think this will change Ridley's stance?


Because he's not looking for any data to verify or refute the position he has, but merely to point out whenever it's possible that his denialism is supported by a "peer reviewed study".

Using an IQ test to measure intelligence depends on two highly dubious assumptions: (1) that intelligence can be measured with a single factor and (2) that an IQ test actually measures that factor. The existence of the Absent-Minded Professor stereotype is one of several lines of evidence that the first of these assumptions is false: if there were a single measure of intelligence, then why would you expect someone who can think academically at such a high level to have so much difficulty with everyday life? Such people certainly do exist (e.g., Norbert Wiener, the prototypical Absent-Minded Professor). As for the second, there is plenty of evidence that cultural background influences IQ test scores (e.g., I would probably do well on a test designed for well-off native English speakers living in the West, but test me on my ability to survive in the African bush and I am likely to fail miserably). In the hands of someone seeking to prove the superiority of certain ethnic groups, this bias tends to become a self-fulfulling prophecy.

There is a difference between research on human intelligence and research on IQ. The former can be scientific. Until and unless the IQ researchers can demonstrate that their two crucial assumptions are valid, IQ research should be considered pseudoscience.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

While I agree completely that decisions about individuals should be made based on the characteristics of those individuals, not merely their membership in a racial group, I find the idea that it's _not possible_ that there is a significant correlation between race and IQ to be extremely questionable. It's certainly _possible_ that the apparent measured difference in average IQs between various races is due entirely to socioeconomics, prejudice, or other cultural factors -- and these questions are further complicated because of the fuzziness of race and the inter-relatedness of IQ and socioeconomics -- but it also certainly seems possible that genetic factors represent a portion of the difference, to demand that this cannot be is a philosophical position, not a scientific one (unless you have the evidence showing that it is entirely attributable to non-genetic factors).

Now, it's possible that I've been reading the wrong people -- but my impression, and the apparent conclusion of the American Psychological Association -- is that the science has not yet been settled.

For an easier read, I highly recommend this series of articles Slate published several years back in response to James Watson's fairly vulgar comments on race:

The author explicitly states that average differences in IQ scores should not be used to prejudge any individual, he also states his strong preference that the data would not present itself as it does:

"Remember, these are averages, and all groups overlap. You can't deduce an individual's intelligence from her ethnicity. The only thing you can reasonably infer is that anyone who presumes to rate your IQ based on the color of your skin is probably dumber than you are."

Ethan should be more careful to distinguish the purely scientific question of what is the correlation between race and genetic contributions to intelligence vs. what are the moral and societal implications of these correlations (as the author above does).

By Punching Bag (not verified) on 21 May 2013 #permalink

The data was not about race and criminality (=behaviour), so you are avoiding the question with logical fallacy of false analogy. Again error from your part. The question was why the race and IQ data is racist. IQ studies are trying to pinpoint the reasons for IQ variations. Why looking this data set (if it is accurate) is racist?

You said:
"there’s absolutely no reason to believe that race is a determinant of, for example, criminality."
How did you come to this "absolute" conclusion without looking any related data? What methodology did you use to remove this option from the pool of options?

You said
"For example, if I look at some data of wealth vs race and find that black people earn less and white people more, I can conclude that white people are stealing money more than other races."
And I agree that conclusions are racist, but why the data itself (assuming it is correct) is racist?

You seem to be focusing on black people for some reason (I guess US focused mind set). But IQ studies of Flynn Effect of immigrants, Ashkenazi Jews, and population from northern China, Korea and Japan are facinating. I guess you think all of those studies are racist too...

You said:
"you’re a racist"
I guess when you lose an argument you start a childish name calling.

Why is Quizkajer race and IQ bell curves data (assuming it is correct) racist? Your cartoon example is clearly racist because it shows racist thinking and behaviour. But why is raw data racist? Is the data tainted if researchers motives were racist or is data neutral if data is correct?

Frank, I wonder what the correlation between being unable to read the post you're complaining about and being a redneck racist dickead is?

I've got ONE data point and that gives a 100% correlation...

I find the idea that it’s _not possible_ that there is a significant correlation between race and IQ to be extremely questionable.

And here we have a trifecta of proofs of Ethan's point.

1) Nobody is saying that it is _not possible_ that there is a significant correlation. However, there's absolutely nothing to indicate there could be anything as an actual causal link that could be sorted out by knowing that "there's a correlation".

2) WHY do you think that it's "extremely questionable"? Given the complete lack of anything to cause a correlation THAT ISN'T INHERENTLY RACIST IDEOLOGY DRIVEN makes the assumption there IS a correlation rather dubious.

3) "a significant correlation"??? Why do you think that ANY correlation where we have no idea that there is a causation should be visible with a STRONG signal?

Why on earth are you blithering on about it in that way? Here are the visible factors:

1) made up a strawman position, indicating you KNOW you have nothing to attack in what's said.
2) assertion that you're being persecuted for your thoughts
3) assertion that there MUST be something SIGNIFICANTLY DIFFERENT between races on internal biological development.

All three indicate that you are, in actual fact, a racist, trying to justify it, just like Hitler or Stalin did with eugenics and Lysenkoism.

Thanks for giving yet another data point that shows that it's only racists that are invested in the idea of looking for such a difference.


I should have been a bit clearer in my first paragraph -- there's no question that there's a correlation between race and IQ, the question is to what extent genetic factors are responsible (causative) for that correlation vs. environmental factors.

The reason I think it's extremely questionable to assert that it's highly unlikely that genetic factors play a significant role in observed IQ differences between races is because genetic factors are known to play a significant role in every aspect of our persons, and there's a well understood mechanism for separated population groups to accumulate differences in genetic distribution over time.

IQ, in particular, is known to have a strong heritable component -- this is shown with adoption studies where hereditary vs. environment influences can most easily be separated.

Your slur about Hitler and Lysenko again misses the point about moral questions vs. scientific ones -- Lysenko was just bad science, but eugenics is just bad morals, do you really think that if some uber-government had the power to prevent the bottom 50% of the population according to any given trait from reproducing they couldn't dramatically increase the average measurement of that trait over the next few generations? We've certainly done it for cows and dogs, it seems to me to be patently ideological to assert that we couldn't do it for humans.

As for motivations, my motivation is contrarianism -- you feel like people are motivated to find racial differences by a racist agenda, I feel people are motivated to deny racial differences by an egalitarian agenda. I think evolutionary theory predicts racial differences among population groups, and I don't think that IQ is in some way specially different than height, or any other physiological measure. Ultimately this question will be answered with a better understanding of how genetics maps onto observable traits such as IQ, and what the relationship with the environment actually is, and a statistical understanding of genetic variation among population groups. I'm also aware of arguments that genetic variation among humans is extremely low, and the time scale of group separation is not long enough for evolution to have caused such differences -- those arguments may be true, but my read of the evidence is that there is still plenty of reasons to think it is not.

Where we should place our tentative belief in the absence of conclusive evidence is a philosophy of science question -- I dislike the assertion/implication that 100% environmental causation is in some sense a "default position" until genetic causation has been verified in some more definitive sense. You think my inclination towards genetics is racist, I think it's merely evolutionary, and I think your inclination towards 100% environmental causation is an argument from "how you wish the world was" and against the potentially racist implications of the genetic hypothesis. Again, I assert that the opportunity for racism is in what moral/social conclusions one would draw from a genetic conclusion -- not from the conclusion itself.

Finally, I'd just like to point out, as would have been made extremely clear if you read either article I posted, that no one denies the significant importance of environmental factors (nutrition, education, cultural racism). This the debate is between 0/100 vs. (N)/(100-N) contribution of genetic vs. environmental factors. Given everything we know about genetics and brain development, claiming N = 0 demands a very high bar of evidence which I don't feel has been met.

By Punching Bag (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

FYI -- Apparently the author of the first paper I posted to (from the piece on Slate, the second link I posted) is a racist in the traditional moral/societal sense, not merely in the supposedly scientific sense:

"For the past five years, J. Philippe Rushton has been president of the Pioneer Fund, an organization dedicated to "the scientific study of heredity and human differences." During this time, the fund has awarded at least $70,000 to the New Century Foundation. To get a flavor of what New Century stands for, check out its publications on crime ("Everyone knows that blacks are dangerous") and heresy ("Unless whites shake off the teachings of racial orthodoxy they will cease to be a distinct people"). New Century publishes a magazine called American Renaissance, which preaches segregation. Rushton routinely speaks at its conferences."

This was mentioned in the Slate piece, but I didn't realize it was in reference to the APA paper I linked to (there's lots of links in the Slate piece) -- so, I'm less trustworthy of the science in that paper, it appeared to be a meta-review of the last 30 years of research somehow sanctioned by the APA, but now I'm wondering what the critical assessment of it is.

In any case, I'm far from an expert on this field -- my academic understanding on it comes from a single undergrad course in Individual Differences. I hope William Saletan (Slate author) has done his homework enough that his various data points don't come solely from this piece, but I don't have the contrary arguments and evidence to know.

I find it's extremely difficult to evaluate evidence in discussions like this where the arguments and evidence are often extremely polarized. Both sides of the argument think the other are massively distorting the evidence in favor of some cognitive prejudice. In some ways it mirrors the way arguments about global warming, evolution, and religion go -- FWIW, I'm an atheist, but I once was convinced by religious arguments because I failed to expose myself sufficiently to the strongest contrary arguments I could find. I'll admit the same may be true in this case, but I strongly wonder for those so adamant on this position (Ethan and WoW) to what extent have you exposed yourself to any evidence vs. to what extent are your conclusions based on the potential moral implications of the genetic hypothesis?

I honestly find the genetic hypothesis shockingly non-controversial, whether or not it's true -- I can understand why "made in the image of God" types would find it objectionable, but I don't understand as well why those who believe in evolutionary theory would.

By Punching Bag (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

there’s no question that there’s a correlation between race and IQ


Oh, no, your handle shows you're trolling. And instead of answering the questions, you blather on about some other crap that pours from your pin-sized brain.

Bye bye.

Huh -- I'm actually not trolling at all, I chose my handle because I expected a negative response and didn't want my real name permanently associated with this thread.

I'm happy to be done, the level of dialogue on this thread has been embarrassingly low for a science blog -- there's been essentially no discussion of evidence, but merely a series of foot-stomping assertions of racism, followed by childish ad hominems.

Here's an example of what would have been a more useful criticism to the genetic hypothesis than anything you have said:

By Punching Bag (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

test me on my ability to survive in the African bush and I am likely to fail miserably

I would hypothesise that those scoring more highly on IQ tests will also score more highly on their ability to survive in the African bush. Of course, education and experience would go some way to confound this.

I don't think Lund's contribution is useful. In fact, it looks like the classic smokescreen thrown up by those who use political correctness to shield themselves from facts of life they find unpleasant.

Same with Wow - introducing the non-sequitur of environmental causes of morphological differences between sub-species is monumentally irrelevant, something a smart guy like him would only do if he was in the grip of a serious case of denial.

Let me re-phrase it: if DNA differences cause *visible* differentiation between sub-species, it is evidently wrong to assume that those DNA differences cannot cause non-visible differences as well.
Non-visible differences (in a complicated organism like a human being) could manifest as behavioural differences, including, for example, different ability when it comes to sitting IQ tests.

As we can see from this thread, in Western culture it simply isn't allowed to discuss these kinds of differences between different human populations.
(The poltically-correct take the two-pronged strategy of criticising both the act of investigation as well as the IQ test itself.)
Of course not all cultures around the world are with us on this...

By Craig Thomas (not verified) on 22 May 2013 #permalink

The true problem with the graph (since I haven't seen anyone mention this) is that there are many, many things that affect things like IQ (not intelligence, but IQ scores) or test scores, or criminal behavior, or whatever it is that you want to correlate with race ... which have a merely tangential connection with race.

In the United States we still live in a segregated society. Don't believe me? Look at a racial map of any major American city. Here is Detroit:


Google search for "race map of (whatever city)" to see it for whatever city you like.

Racial segregation is no accident, and it's not (as many racists will tell you) because racial minorities "naturally" congregate together. This is true for whites but not for blacks or other racial categories. For instance, one study on housing found that the most preferred racial makeup of a neighborhood, as far as black families are concerned, is about 50% white and 50% black.

Segregation is NOT driven by the preferences of racial minorities, but the preferences of the racial majority (whites, who typically prefer a neighborhood to be 80% to 100% white) codified into housing policy and the financial infrastructure. Past housing policy in the US was explicitly racist (as in, racial qualifications were explicitly written into the policies to exclude especially black Americans). Current housing policy in the US is racist in ways that are more occult. It's easy to demonstrate disparate impact from a housing policy, and even easy to uncover the reason for the disparate impact, but much harder to point to a phrase in the policy that mentions race explicitly so the people who write the policies maintain plausible deniability.

What does this have to do with race vs. IQ? Socioeconomic status, race, and physical location of residence strongly intersect, and physical location of residence affects so, so, so many things that are not necessarily obvious to people who don't have to deal with bad places of residence. I'm not talking about just schools (although bad schools are a big factor). I'm talking about access to health care. Access to transportation. Access to food that isn't junk food. Access to job opportunities. The ability to just get out of the house and move your body at will. Certain locations are stressful just to live in (can't sleep, never feel safe) which erodes the immune system and ages people prematurely. Some locations are actually poisoned, with lead or other heavy metals, or other types of industrial waste or pollution.

People become stupid when they are ill-fed, have gotten no sleep, have been poisoned by lead in the yard since childhood, and have no job prospects that don't involve handling illegal drugs. This only =tangentially= correlates with race. It correlates directly with place of residence.

I will reiterate: even if the data are correct as presented, the conclusion you are meant to draw (that certain racial groups are stupid) is racist, because the cause of the stupidity is NOT race. It is a systematic, societal, institutionalized program to shuffle racial minorities (especially black Americans) into neighborhoods where it is an uphill battle just to attain what affluent (white) Americans take for granted. Things like leisure, peace and quiet, a sense of safety, a yard that isn't literally poisoned.

The great thinkers of the past were always upper-class white men (and a few women). Why? Because they had the leisure, peace and quiet, and sense of safety necessary to develop the natural intelligence that ALL humans have, but not all humans have the ability to exploit.

That's what's wrong with the chart.

"In a famous statement all the way back in 1950, UNESCO had the following to say"

Which R.A. Fisher and Teilhard refused to sign because they though it was nonsense.

@Craig #43
"he was in the grip of a serious case of denial."
No Comment.

"As we can see from this thread, in Western culture it simply isn’t allowed to discuss these kinds of differences between different human populations.
(The poltically-correct take the two-pronged strategy of criticising both the act of investigation as well as the IQ test itself.)"

Well it depends who the socio boogeyman is at the time.
Sort of the flavor of the times if you will.


Now, since Race is the "flavor of the month" with Obammy in the White House ginning it up, the good professor would have been safe if he compared and contrast the evils of the Catholic Church To The Protestants as religion is now mankind's boogeyman that academia is flailing about it's sword of know it all.
Nothing changes with human nature, only the faces and places

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 17 May 2015 #permalink