Arnold Kling  

Mentioning IQ and race

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My latest essay tries to sort out the issues of race, IQ, and education.


Earlier, I said that my preferred approach is individualism. To understand this approach, try this thought experiment: imagine if everyone suddenly were afflicted with group-identity amnesia.

Group-identity amnesia would mean that each person would forget his or her own ethnic identity. It also means that we forget how to identify and interpret all of the markers of race or ethnicity. I would meet someone named "Cohen" and not think, "Must be Jewish." I would see someone with black skin and not think, "Ancestors must be from Africa."

It seems to me that a society with group-identity amnesia would have no reason to feel awkward about testing people for aptitude. It would have no reason to feel awkward about identifying individuals with different aptitudes. It would have no reason to feel awkward about placing some people in remedial classes and others in classes for gifted students.


Please read the whole essay before commenting.

Also, on a similar subject, there are columns by Will Saletan here and here.


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COMMENTS (16 to date)
Fly Fisher writes:
It has always been my private conviction that any man who pits his intelligence against a fish and loses has it coming.

-- John Steinbeck


Interesting essay. You're gonna get it for this one, though, and I bet I know who is gonna give it to you.

Whereas few people will admit to it, many are afraid of -- or vehemently opposed to -- policies based on individualism.

Mason writes:

The problem, as I see, that people have with IQ, is not where they’ve come from, but where they can go.

People like to think that they can be anything they want to be, but telling them that they and their children and grandchildren are likely never to rise above average, kind of kills that.

I would agree that individualism is the best approach when addressing IQ. This does however mean foregoing cheap information about people based on averages. Simply putting all Jews in the advanced classes may not be a perfect use of resources but it’s very easy and may make better use of resources than we currently do.

Of course we could test everyone in which case some non-Jews would sneak into the advanced classes and some Jews would go for remedial lessons.

Given that we know there are distinct group averages, and the individuals vary widely from group averages, and that it is costly to evaluate individual differences, it seems logical that at a given level of uniformity the cost-benefit pay of individualism become negative.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t evaluate on an individual level, just that I haven’t seen its costs this taken into account anywhere.

Steve Sailer writes:

Good essay.

One thing that's very important to keep in mind is that racial identities are not as arbitrary as sports fan loyalties. That's because race is mostly about who your relatives are. Somebody named, say, Cohen has loved ones also named Cohen, and he's likely to have relatives and in-laws with names like Goldberg and Friedman.

These kind of group loyalties can definitely change over time due to intermarriage -- e.g., I would imagine that in 500 AD, the Angles and the Saxons were pretty distinct but by 1000 AD they were just the Anglo-Saxons -- but they take time, generations.

Steve Sailer writes:

One way to lessen the salience of group average IQ differences is to apply your concept of individualism to immigration policy. If, like Canada, you keep out illegal immigrants and select legal immigrants from among applicants using criteria that correlate with IQ (such as educational attainment), you won't have big IQ gaps among racial groups.

You'll still have group enmities (such as anti-Indian Sikh terrorists operating out of Canada), but prejudices and problems based on average IQ differences won't be a major issue because average IQ differences are small.

Obviously, we can't go back in time and apply the Canadian system to America, but we can at least use a Canadian-style system to lessen how big the problems will be in the future compared to how big they will be under our current system.

Brad Hutchings writes:

An interesting exercise might be to write the section of your essay where you outline the four ways of dealing with IQ, but from the perspective of a compensationalist, sharply critical of the individualist view. Why is a compensationalist suspicious of an individualist? We get a heavy dose of the former perspective without a refutation of the latter. What would the refutation look like? That's what I'd like to know.

Half Sigma writes:

Kudos for coming out on the issue of human biodiversity realism. I am glad that it's finally getting a fair hearing in the blogosphere.

tony writes:

As an African American, i'm hoping that more data can be captured about IQ and i'm sure i'll be comfortable with the findings, whatever they may be. The reason? Because time and time again it's been shown that we (meaning humans) do not have an understanding of what skills will be needed in the next phase of human evolution, or how the human body (particularly the brain) works. Would the Romans have predicted that the "barbarians" outside of the Roman Empire would one day rule various parts of the world, while the Roman empire withered and died? Probably not.

Part of the premise that I always hear on the EconTalk podcasts and read in economic books/articles is that there we cannot predict how the market will solve a problem. Economists can't really provide any guarantees and can only point to data which, by definition, is historical, so there is an implicit assumption when extrapolating into the future that the environment will stay the same. Fortunately, history has shown that environments vary dramatically based on new innovations, so we're probably going to find out in 20 years that some of the things we're talking about now (and are assuming are unambiguous facts) are in fact just theories that were put together based on data gathered from whatever sources were possible and used to rationalize current realities.

That being said, I must admit that this belief is more a matter of faith in the fallibility of humans than a theory which I can back up with data - so i'm comfortable with the fact that it will be dismissed because I don't have an empirical study to back it up. I only have the knowledge that we (humans) always seem to discover things that were previously inconceivable and that defy existing myths. At various times, the world was flat, Rome would rule forever, Einstein was a radical nut...and the Patriots would never win a championship (who knew??).

eric writes:

Politics are driven by groups, not individuals. And so saying that the between variation is small relative to the within-group variation is well and fine, but at the end of the day non-asian-non-jewish-minorities are at the low end of socioeconomic and IQ averages, which pisses many people off. Worse, the fact that IQ is less important for individuals than groups sounds nice--let's treat individuals as such--because the converse is that the group average is highly predictable (where are those school districts where the non-asian minorities outperform?).

For an individual in a group that is at the bottom of a social heirarchy, perhaps it is optimal to then call into question the whole logic of the social order. It may be individually rational for members of the bottom group to do so. Further, members of the dominant group may find this attractive as well if they think the new rules can be gamed to not affect them. So educated white liberals encourage the cult of victimization, knowing it merely affects their less intellectual white peers, who they don't particularly like anyway. An equilibrium of groupthink, against meritocracy as currently defined.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

As a European American, I look forward to the day when genetic engineering can make all of us more intelligent, regardless of our skin color.

General Specific writes:

I prefer Erik Turkheimer's read on the race and IQ topic (over the Saletan take).

I'm not opposed to tracking. In extremes--e.g. as exists in Japan--it is deleterious, in my opinion. People can be tracked into a category from which they cannot escape. Flexibility is important. People should have the opportunity to reinvent themselves.

But on the topic of Race and IQ, Turkheimer brings up the following point: we're not studying the genetic correlation between Jews and an interest in money. In blogs around the net, I've not seen a single refutation of this argument, just subterfuge to avoid his point. An interest in collecting money is a good thing, is it not? Capitalism works on it. Shouldn't we be studying people to determine who is better at collecting money? Or not?

I say it would be stupid to do so.

Aptitude tests are fine. But it has nothing to do with genes. When someone fails an aptitude test, they might find themselves in a different slot--e.g. compensation, or title. But I'm not going to call them stupid, nor say they have a lower IQ, because it is largely meaningless and completely worthless to do so--to call them stupid, or comment on something as tenuous as IQ. They failed an aptitude test. Period.

All the discussion on IQ and race, including Watson's remarks, is just plain stupid if you ask me. Achieving nothing.

General Specific writes:

Here's another insightful discussion of this topic.

And though I won't link to them, there are plenty of blogs out there with racists foaming at the mouth with the "truths" spoken by Watson, Saletan, and others on this topic of race and IQ.

And finally, we've got what I think is the goal of race based research:

"MR. MAC NEIL: Given The Bell Curve’s thesis that intelligence, in large part, is something one is born with and can’t be changed, Murray and Herrnstein argue that the current anti-poverty programs such as “Head Start” and affirmative action are ineffectual and a waste of money."

Public policy and respectful conversation has nothing to gain from discussions about race and intelligence. Psychologists should study the concept of intelligence, but there is little or no good and much harm derived from the discussions derived from this tenuous research.

Z. M. Davis writes:

I think a lot of supposed compensationalists are really individualists who think that group differences are very small or very malleable, i.e., who are "denialists" to some extent. (I use scare quotes because whether the author intended it or not, "denialist" comes off as a pejorative term, cf., e.g., the Denialism Blog. If you're commited (rightly or wrongly) to the position that ethnicity doesn't matter very much, then disparity in outcome counts as evidence of racism.

One might wonder how an individualist should come to be so committed to the proposition that innate group differences are negligible. The answer is that she observes that people are not treated as individuals, and concludes that bias and bigotry, rather than genetics, accounts for disparities.

Don't blame the left for collectivism in this case! A lot of egalitarians would be perfectly happy to "lose the we," if only the sexists and racists would do so first.

(And of course, the issue is not a dichotomy, even though it is seductively easy to talk about it if it were: bias could account for some, but not all, of the disparity in outcome.)

Brad Hutchings writes:

Way to read the article G.S.

General Specific writes:

Brad: I read the article. It starts with a quote telling me how important IQ and "g" are, then tells me a story about how African Americans are remedial (probably because they're lacking in that g thing, but he didn't say that), but now that he's strongly implied it, let's pretend that he didn't and focus on a race-blind policy of individualism (with a story about fishing to boot).

Carol Dweck at Columbid finds that when a class of people are labeled stupid, they assume the label.

My argument is individualism is fine, some compenstationalism is warranted, tracking has pros and cons, education will never have the resources to be completely individualistic, private universities are heavily compensationalistic (towards the wealthy--e.g. legacies), education is already compensationalistic (towards the wealthy), and most importantly:

A post on individualism, to be true to its goals, would achieve it's goal without telling me once again that African Americans are the remedial class while arguing that class or race should be ignored.

That's just my opinion.

Brad Hutchings writes:

G.S.: I don't think you're interpretation of of the "remedial" paragraph is a fair, open-minded reading. The trouble with your conclusion, which is significantly supported by your unfair reading of that paragraph, is that it doesn't address the externality of, for example, poor whites subsidizing more wealthy blacks under the auspices of compensationalist programs like affirmative action. Why doesn't it address that? Because under your framework, we can't even talk about it. We have to accept that the current economic plight of minority groups is 100% about past and current discrimination. We have to support the same approaches which have mostly failed to do anything for 40 years. And if we don't, we're in with the racists.

Chris Collins writes:

I do not think there is a problem with testing peoples IQs. I think the problem come in when you out limit on people with lower ones. Even though a person may not have the highest mental capacity it does not mean they should be label a failure and that what see the biggest problem with testing IQs.

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