Arnold Kling  

Race and IQ Pushback

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Tyler Cowen finds some in Slate and in The New York Times. In the latter, Richard E. Nisbett writes,


Most important, we know that interventions at every age from infancy to college can reduce racial gaps in both I.Q. and academic achievement, sometimes by substantial amounts in surprisingly little time. This mutability is further evidence that the I.Q. difference has environmental, not genetic, causes. And it should encourage us, as a society, to see that all children receive ample opportunity to develop their minds.

I would like to see Nisbett and James Heckman debate the empirical evidence. My impression is that Heckman is not quite so sanguine about educational interventions, and Heckman is an optimist compared to other folks I know.


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CATEGORIES: IQ in Economics



COMMENTS (11 to date)
charles darwin writes:

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TGGP writes:

I like Karl Smiths theory: people have a differing preferences for nerdery. Parents and educators with complete control over a kid's life can force him/her to learn, but once he/she's out of their control they revert to the intelligence they'd like to have (explaining increasing heritability with age). You could call it "Go and make me!" theory of intelligence. I don't know much about the malleability of intelligence though.

arthur writes:

I do remember a review of the bell curve by James Heckman stating that the findings have no policy relevance, because the results say nothing abou the response to intervention (to his satisfaction, anyway). I think for Heckman is business as usual, and I predict he will still advocate early educational interventions like he did every other time.

Tom S. writes:

Along the same line as Aurthur's comment, in a recent department lecture, Heckman noted intervention was quite effective in early childhood. He pointed out the effectiveness of intervention declined rapidly as the child grew older. He undoubtedly would favor early childhood intervention.

stan writes:

The important distinction to be made is the difference between intelligence and potential. Some think I.Q. tests measure potential intelligence, while others others assume it is a measure of a single point in time. The fact that I.Q. scores have risen over the past couple generations says to me that we are talking about what is going on at this time, and not the potential of the individual, or even the race. This is a silly controversy.

The test is an imperfect indicator of what we want to really test, so conclusions drawn from the results should be taken with a grain of salt. It is like reading an old econometric paper with poor data and poor methods. Don't put too much stock in I.Q. data.

CurtD writes:

If the question is "should we treat people differently because of their race" the answer should be "no". If on the other hand, you do not think that there are substantial differences between races, or that the data is at all unclear on this, then you are confusing the desire to treat all men equally, with the reality that they are different, and within populations of people with similar racial properties, there are very consistent and predictable differences from those people in other groups.

We cannot solve the world's conflicts by denying the reality of our differences. All people need education, rule of law and property rights. Not all will benefit equally from education, because not all may do so - and we cannot tell who best and least able. The issue is not to deny racial differences between groups, it is to acknowledge them, but implement no policy that discriminates against members of a class because of the properties of that class. Primarily because in any group of people, there are very smart and very dim people, with only the distribution of people under the curve determining one race's "average". And there is the problem. You can judge a class of people by the properties of it's individuals. You cannot judge an individual by the properties of his class. If you do, then that is racism, and not only rude or immoral, but simply and entirely stupid, as you are playing the probabilities rather than assessing the capabilities of the individual in front of you. And again, that is a fool's racism, rather than just a bigot's racism.

To say that different social orders are necessary given the distribution of IQ in a population is probably not a stretch, but it is a potentially dangerous one. If you make that stretch it is possible that such different distributions require different political orders. Different religions. Different school systems. Different priorities in schools, and slightly different priorities in economic development. And furthermore, the differences between us are only significant in the rate of our ability to grasp certain abstractions by abstract means, rather than as imitations, which will result largely a difference in the rate of invention and innovation, not in our ability to interact with each other in trade, agreement, celebration, friendship, or affection. The cooperation and mutual benefit from interaction these more important attributes are, at least at the individual level, immaterial to the differences in our classes.

No matter what we wish, people from different races consistently prefer to be surrounded by others from the same race. Until this changes, and there is no evidence that it will because it is based on so many reasons, races will remain as they are, the preferences of those races a reflection of the distribution of properties in those races. And this is what should guide our policy. Not a universalism of human social orders. But a universalism of human rights. In this sense, a universalism of government is a fools errand. A universalism of property rights the errand of the wise and compassionate. Because that is all we need to cooperate regardless of our differences.

And to the poster's comment that "intervention helps" the answer is that a) it helps temporarily as long as the environment continues, and b) it has the same relative effect on those who have higher IQ's, eliminating the relative benefit. It is not all that hard to master the data that is out there. It is quite hard to master the character necessary to know what to do with that knowledge once one possesses it.

Cheers

dearieme writes:

"difference has environmental, not genetic, causes." Is he really so dim as to assume that this is an either/or question?

george writes:

You can boost IQ test performance in the short run by teaching to the test, but these effects are small and dissipate quickly. Heckman believed this too until he studied it, and turned instead to the idea that non-g intellect was what could and should by emphasized, especially in early learning.

If Nisbett is correct then you would think that some school, somewhere, would have applied these rules, raised all their minority kids up to average and become world famous and rich--it would solve one of the most divisive and troubling problems of our times.

But supposedly racism is so ubiquitous that this simple solution has been neglected, implying a conspiracy of unprecedented proportion.

Floccina writes:

Most important, we know that interventions at every age from infancy to college can reduce racial gaps in both I.Q. and academic achievement, sometimes by substantial amounts in surprisingly little time. This mutability is further evidence that the I.Q. difference has environmental, not genetic, causes. And it should encourage us, as a society, to see that all children receive ample opportunity to develop their minds.

This would tend imply something bad about African American's child raising skills or that non African Americans could also gain.

Mike writes:

"If Nisbett is correct then you would think that some school, somewhere, would have applied these rules, raised all their minority kids up to average and become world famous and rich--it would solve one of the most divisive and troubling problems of our times. "

- Ah, a famous (and false) argument often heard in a setting among economists. My, "there are no market-imperfections" boss, states this all the time to all type of policy questions. However, if this would be true, then all development possible would already have been reached, right? Whatever they may be. Or, wait, why wasn't his the case last year, or in 1990, or in 1950?

And regarding the question that you can't boost your scores on IQ-tests by education. I haven't studied the relevant literature, but to me this seems outright false as well. I have performed a respected and well-tested IQ-test once, and there were e.g. a couple of "venn-diagram"-type questions. Without doubt, had I performed the test before my Ph.D courses in microeconomics I would have had difficulties with some of those questions. Now, I found them incredibly easy...I think this was true for a lot of the questions in the test.

George writes:

Nobody seems to be pointing out a sure-fire way to close the black-white gap: an early-childhood intervention in which we repeatedly hit the white kids on the head, causing minor brain damage. You have to be careful not to overdo it, since then you'd just open a gap in the other direction. And if you only care about averages, you can take a small fraction of the white kids and completely wipe out their higher cognitive functioning: cheaper (smaller intervention population), and there's no need to calibrate the injuries.

I personally think worrying about gaps is silly, though, so someone else will have to draft the grant proposal.

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