There are many positions on IQ, the so-called intelligence quotient, but most fall into two camps. Those who reject IQ measures outright, because racism, and those who claim people have an IQ, as they have height.
For most practical decisions and judgments, I fall in with the latter group, even though I continually remind them they are committing the Deadly Sin of Reification and are over-certain, and become forgetful that correlation of test scores and other measures of success is not necessarily causation. Nobody “has” an IQ: some have scores from tests, single number condensations of what we call intelligence, which is multi-faceted in ways not appreciated. And no I don’t mean the “emotional” IQ and all that. I mean intelligence is unique in humans and can only be partially grasped. Plus, single-number summaries like IQ are, at best, highly inadequate, especially in attempts to quantify the unquantifiable, as IQ literalists do. Read all about the subtleties of what I call the realist position here.
But, given those caveats, again I fall into the literalist camp for most everyday interpretations. Example: East Asians routinely and in all possible situations and circumstances score on intelligence tests on average higher than blacks. This means the obvious. Take one East Asian and one black and, given this evidence, and knowing nothing else about these two people (take this in its strictest literal sense), the chance the East Asian would score higher than the black is greater than 50%. At the very least, this is the way to bet.
Since it is, based on all historical evidence gathered heretofore, the way to bet, the same conclusion, with the suitable mathematical modifications, applies to judgments about two East Asians and two blacks. Or three of each, or four. Or all of them. Naturally, once you know the actual scores for any individuals, probability (as such) is no longer necessary—-or relevant in the least. If Jamal scores 106 and Sato 99, then Jamal has bested Sato on this test, regardless of how well or poorly anybody else from any race does.
What’s race? Here is where some make a fuss and say that because race is ambiguously genetically or otherwise defined, we can’t really know race, and the people who say we can say what race is are racist.
Which is a hilarious contradiction.
It’s made all the time, though. By many tenured well credentialed academics. Like Rasmus Rosenberg Larsen, Helen De Cruz, Jonathan Kaplan, Agustin Fuentes, Jonathan Marks, Massimo Pigliucci, Mark Alfano, David Livingstone Smith and Lauren Schroeder. They gathered to together to huff and puff about race in the peer-reviewed paper “More than provocative, less than scientific: A commentary on the editorial decision to publish Cofnas (2020)” in the journal Philosophical Psychology.
The fuss is over a paper Confas wrote, “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry.” I think the Confas paper is well summarized by its Abstract:
In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence. We should be prepared for the possibility that these variants are not distributed identically among all geographic populations, and that this explains some of the phenotypic differences in measured intelligence among groups. However, some philosophers and scientists believe that we should refrain from conducting research that might demonstrate the (partly) genetic origin of group differences in IQ. Many scholars view academic interest in this topic as inherently morally suspect or even racist. The majority of philosophers and social scientists take it for granted that all population differences in intelligence are due to environmental factors. The present paper argues that the widespread practice of ignoring or rejecting research on intelligence differences can have unintended negative consequences. Social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences may fail to achieve their aims. Large swaths of academic work in both the humanities and social sciences assume the truth of environmentalism and are vulnerable to being undermined. We have failed to work through the moral implications of group differences to prepare for the possibility that they will be shown to exist.
Confas is right and wrong. We will indeed, weakly and statistically, identify some “genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence.” Regular readers know how much to emphasize that weakly. We will never identify all genetic components, because some aspects of intelligence are immaterial, which is to say, not material. I won’t defend that view here, which I’ve done elsewhere, except to say it is the opposite of materialist philosophy both Confas and his critics hold.
Passing over that, it’s clear genetic variants do vary between “groups”, a word which everybody takes to mean race or sex. After all, variants vary. Something material (and it doesn’t have ot be only genes) is accounting for the phenotypic differences plain to everybody, and nobody is arguing these differences are solely due to environment, otherwise a Chinese couple mating in Botswana would produce a Bushmen baby.
Genes are allowed by everybody to play a role in all observed differences, except aspects of intelligence (and, with sex, strength and other behavioral traits). But since all observation confirms there are differences in brain-body makeup that are driven by genetics, and the brain-body is responsible for some aspects of intelligence, it follows trivially genes are causing differences in some aspects of intelligence. It doesn’t follow, though, that all aspects are different or that genes cause all differences.
After all, men and women have huge differences in brain-body makeups, and no observation has confirmed men and women think or act the same in all things. The opposite is true, even if it is not always believed.
So much is by way of a introduction! An unfortunately long one because of sensitive intricacies.
Confas is certainly and unambiguously right that academics are at least skittish about this topic. If it turns out that people born short can’t become tall through education and forced protein diets, then we will be stuck with an inequality, a disparity. These are forbidden by the theory of Equality, sometimes called Equity, which insists all are “really” the same. This is why those believing in Equality are found to attack every piece of evidence relating to biological differences in height, and will even screech “Heightist!”, which, to them, is the ultimate argument ender.
Wait. Did I just say height? How silly of me. I meant intelligence.
Group differences are real because individual differences are. Of course, it is possible to pick individuals to stock each named group so that each group is the same in distribution of whatever trait or traits that interest us. This used to be done in gym class when people picked “sides” to balance out athletic ability. I wonder if this is still allowed. Anyway, folks when mating do not seek to balance groups statistically. So group differences based on mating characteristics are real. And mating is often race based. Therefore, group difference based on race are real.
Again, what’s race? It need not be anything more but what we call race, i.e. those visual and behavioral indicators that separate people. We self-separate peoples into racial groups. This is what I will mean by race: self-identification of named groups. Race is thus real by definition, and predictive by observation, as in IQ tests and in many other measurable aspects of behavior. (This whole conversation is absurd, I know, but when dealing with modern reality-denying academics, you have to be careful.)
Confas is right again that ignoring group differences will carry negative consequences. Put it this way. Ignoring group differences is just another way of asserting Equality. Since this false theory means everybody is “really” the same, the programs to create true Equality will never end or be sufficient. Every slight remaining difference in equality of outcome will be seen as increasingly intolerable. A negative feedback loop develops. We have all seen where this leads, and is leading. Harrison Bergeron and so on.
Once more, everybody knows that, in the West, academics are largely cowards, fearful of the mob, and opportunists, using political controversy to get ahead. No paper needs to be written asserting these things, which would be the equivalent of saying Only Men Have Penises. Which academics are too frightened to say! So one does wonder why Confas bothered.
At any rate, we finally arrive at the contra-Confas paper. Its authors sniff, “There are, however, several critical problems with Cofnas’s piece, which we believe should have either disqualified the manuscript upon submission or been addressed during the review process and resulted in substantial revisions.”
The first problem we find with Cofnas’s contribution is related to its implicit endorsement of racial realism: the idea that the human species is naturally divided into many clusters of biologically discrete/different populations. Although the theory of racial realism is not problematic in and of itself, Cofnas makes it problematic by representing the theory as scientific.
How dare he. If race realism is not “problematic” (a pure academic word), then its measurement is scientific by definition. These authors, while not saying so, want to reserve that word for holy things, it seems.
There is no evidence from the study of human biological variation that suggests that racial realism is true, and neither is it the case that scientific insights are restrained by an absence of evidence. Moreover, the idea that the human species is divided into genetically discrete “races” has long been refuted as empirically unsupportable.
This is false, and seen to be false by everybody throughout all history. We need no genetics to know it is false. We know that, for instance, Japanese are not like Pygmies. We know something besides just environment accounts for the differences, whatever this might be. And we have agreed that race encapsulates the differences we acknowledge (such as facial features, height, skin tone, and so on and on).
How, then, can academics say that “discrete ‘races'” have been “refuted”? They lean too hard on discrete, perhaps. Because a Zulu man can mate with an Indonesian woman, the resulting child will be neither completely like the Zulu man or Indonesian woman. So much for race! The academics say “the human species never persisted in multiple sufficiently isolated ‘pure’ groups for such a prolonged time that it would, evolutionarily speaking, make sense to talk about our species being divided into biologically distinct populations.”
But nobody says people in self-selected groups are identical in every way, just similar. Race has not been refuted.
They persist making the point, though, that because peoples aren’t identical, race is false. They quote from the American Association of Physical Anthropology policy statement on race:
Humans share the vast majority (99.9%) of our DNA in common. Individuals nevertheless exhibit substantial genetic and phenotypic variability. Genome/environment interactions, local and regional biological changes through time, and genetic exchange among populations have produced the biological diversity we see in humans today. Notably, variants are not distributed across our species in a manner that maps clearly onto socially-recognized racial groups. This is true even for aspects of human variation that we frequently emphasize in discussions of race, such as facial features, skin color and hair type. No group of people is, or ever has been, biologically homogeneous or “pure”. Furthermore, human populations are not — and never have been — biologically discrete, truly isolated, or fixed.
This is the Gene Fallacy (and not the Genetic Fallacy! that name has already been taken). This fallacy says that because the number of genetic differences aren’t as large as intuition desires, observed differences aren’t real. It is said bonobos and humans share 99% genetic similarity. Yet nobody (except for the odd academic) says humans and bonobos are “really” the same, or that their observed differences aren’t important.
Suppose Australian aboriginals and Inuit peoples share identical genes. Because they are observed to be different, and accepting environment is not the cause of all these differences, then it must be that its not genes themselves causing the differences, but something else. So what? It was theory that insisted all differences were genetic. We aren’t beholden to theory. We do not need to know how something works to acknowledge that it does! To say that we must know how is the Academic Fallacy. Or suppose these two groups differ by just one gene, each group having a different allele at some point, and we accept the theory. Then we can say that, wow, this must be a most consequential gene!
What about Confas’s main complaint that academics are, at best, squeamish about discussing race and intelligence? They say a “fundamental reason why researchers do not engage with the thesis is that empirical evidence shows that the whole idea itself is unintelligible and wrong-headed”. They start by admitting they can’t understand it. But if they can’t understand it, they can’t say it’s “wrong-headed”. (More than one academic philosopher is co-author of this paper. Including atheist philosopher and self-labeled “rationalist” Massimo Pigliucci.)
Here’s their other excuse, which cracks me up:
Whereas Cofnas is concerned that a lack of research into race/IQ may lead to harmful consequences, real scientists are similarly concerned that directing their resources toward nonsensical ideas (such as “racially” discrete hereditary differences in intelligence) would deprive themselves and the rest of humanity of the benefits that would otherwise have followed from pursuing more promising and meaningful lines of inquiry.
Such preening would put Narcissus himself to shame! I’m not sure who would win the Largest Ego contest, modern academics or journalists. Be fun to put them into the ring and fight it out to see.
Then comes the blame and shame shifting. Race studies are “controversial”. Know what else is controversial? Hitler. I jest. Slightly:
With that in mind, we would like to respectfully point out that when racial realism is described only as being “provocative” or “controversial,” that comes disconcertingly close to saying that creationism, anti-vaccination, or climate change skepticism are just scientifically controversial ideas.
Did I mention more than one academic philosopher is co-author of this?
All right, they’re just about done. Surely they wouldn’t spill a couple of thousand words telling us that race doesn’t exist, only to end by screaming “Racist!”? I mean, come on. There are limits to the number of howlers you can squeeze into one academic paper, and we’ve already had our fill. Surely they didn’t say….this:
A final and obvious point that we find necessary to address is the seemingly racist ideological undertones of Cofnas’s article.
But…but…but how can there be racism if there is no such thing as race? How do we know the person we’re calling a “Cracker” or “Honkey” genuinely belongs to the right race, when this race doesn’t even exist? When there’s no way, even, to tell peoples apart?
Still Confas is a racist, at least by implication: “Although we cannot know for a fact whether Cofnas’s contribution was inspired by ulterior ideological motives, it is undeniable that his article can reasonably be read as pandering to proponents of scientific racism.”
No. They can’t know. Not for a fact.
Addendum Hissy fits are not uncommon. Take this paper: Flawed estimates of cognitive ability inClark et al. Psychological Science, 2020.
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