st. elsewheres

by Henry on October 1, 2007

Cosma Shalizi has a mammoth post intended inter alia to explain precisely what is at stake in debates over heritability and IQ to those whose eagerness to pronounce winners in these debates is not, perhaps, matched by their grasp of the underlying methodological issues. Takeaway point:

Do I really believe that the heritability of IQ is zero? Well, I hope by this point I’ve persuaded you that’s not a well-posed question. What I hope you really want to ask is something like: Do I think there are currently any genetic variations which, holding environment fixed to within some reasonable norms for prosperous, democratic, industrial or post-industrial societies, would tend to lead to differences in IQ? There my answer is “yes, of course”. I’ve mentioned phenylketonuria and hypothyroidism already, and many other in-born errors of metabolism also lead to cognitive deficits, including lower IQ, at least in certain environments. More interestingly, conditions like Williams’s Syndrome, Downs’s Syndrome, etc., are genetically caused, and lead to reasonably predictable patterns of cognitive deficits, affecting different abilities in different ways. … I suspect this answer will still not satisfy some people, who really want to know about differences between people who do not have significant developmental disorders. Here, my honest answer would be that I presently have no evidence one way or the other. If you put a gun to my head and asked me to guess, and I couldn’t tell what answer you wanted to hear, I’d say that my suspicion is that there are, mostly on the strength of analogy to other areas of biology where we know much more. I would then — cautiously, because you have a gun to my head — suggest that you read, say, Dobzhansky on the distinction between “human equality” and “genetic identity”, and ask why it is so important to you that IQ be heritable and unchangeable.

Rick Perlstein demonstrates exactly how to do the devastating book review in his account of two right-wing revisionist histories of Vietnam.

The Pentagon Papers were quite certain and cited convincing evidence: “The Catholic deputy province chief ordered his troops to fire…. The Diem government subsequently put out a story that a Viet Cong agent had thrown a grenade into the crowd and that the victims had been crushed in a stampede. It steadfastly refused to admit responsibility even when neutral observers produced films showing government troops firing on the crowd.” The instigator was a Vietcong agent, Moyar insists. How does he know? By inference, not by evidence. He claims the monasteries were lousy with Communist infiltrators, even, perhaps, among their highest counsels. And how does he know that? The Communists said so. It is more than passing strange. On one page Moyar knows what every good right-winger knows: Communists are liars (“With characteristic exaggeration a Communist history stated that…”). On others, however—it is one of the reasons conservative reviews have found him so impressive—he uncritically accepts Communist sources as his key proof texts.

{ 128 comments }

1

soullite 10.01.07 at 9:33 pm

The excerpt truly embodies everything that is wrong with people who bring ideology to science. I don’t know to how large an extent IQ is determined by genetics, but that question has an answer. To essentially conclude at the end of a scientific analysis, as the linked to author does, that we’re better off not knowing is just irresponsible and cowardly.

2

Bryan 10.01.07 at 9:44 pm

Obviously you don’t understand what the phrase “not a well-posed question” means, Soullite.

3

John Quiggin 10.01.07 at 9:47 pm

Rick Perlstein makes the interesting point that the two authors he is reviewing have different, and incompatible, theories. In Moyar, Westmoreland is the hero for the US, and the overthrow of Diem the fatal betrayal. In Sorley, Westmoreland is a disaster, and Abrams, taking over in 1968 represented as the apostle of “hearts and minds”, is the general betrayed on the brink of victory.
Yet a third version, probably more prominent on the right at present has Nixon and Kissinger as gaining (at least) a draw, only to be betrayed by Congress cutting off supplies to the South Vietnamese.

The parallels with the Iraq revisionism now under way are obvious.

4

SamChevre 10.01.07 at 9:51 pm

The third version is the one I find convincing.

Also, I think Shalizi’s article is very interesting and completely misses the point.

5

bza 10.01.07 at 10:03 pm

Soullite: You really should read Shalizi’s post in its entirety. The main ideology you’ll find in it is a passion about the correct use of statistical modelling.

6

LizardBreath 10.01.07 at 10:04 pm

4: Huh. That’s funny, because it seems to me to get the point in a way that very little discussion of IQ and genes does. Which point does it seem to you to miss?

7

John Quiggin 10.01.07 at 10:23 pm

And which version of Iraq revisionism do you go for, samchevre? I think the most plausible is “blame it on Bremer”, but it’s a but hard to nail the traitorous liberals with that one.

8

eudoxis 10.01.07 at 10:47 pm

Cosma’s comments focus on the strength of genetic associations with IQ but could just as well focus on any other factor that contributes to IQ. There probably is something useful that can be said about such associations, but as Cosma points out: “Does a trait’s heritability tells us anything about its malleability, about how easy it is to change the trait with environmental manipulations? The answer is “no, of course not”.

Likewise, a trait’s expression not due to heritability tells us nothing about its malleability.

The real question is how mutable is IQ and how can IQ and academic (or life) achievement be improved?

9

Brett Bellmore 10.01.07 at 11:26 pm

“and ask why it is so important to you that IQ be heritable and unchangeable.”

I’ve encountered people who seemed determined to insist that, aside from the above named sorts of genetically produced deficits, IQ isn’t heritable. OTOH, I can’t recall encountering anybody who claimed that IQ was heritable and unchangeable, probably because it’s just too obvious that a hammer to the head could render even Einstein a moron.

IOW, it’s a strawman.

10

Seth Finkelstein 10.02.07 at 12:17 am

Exactly, the elephant in the room is bluntly, racism attempting to assume a scientific facade.

Let’s try not to have a standard thread, where the racists (and I mean that word quite deliberately and literally) assume a pose of being persecuted heretics, playing the violin of how-do-we-know racism isn’t true. Then the more irritating they get on that tune, the harder they play it.

Is there a better way of dealing with this? Of not playing their game?

Like: Are you really saying that there’s so little equality that racism is the explanation that seems obvious?

(yes, that’s a loaded way of phrasing it, I’ll live with my sin).

11

roger 10.02.07 at 1:13 am

I liked Pearlstein’s shoot down of the revisionist cause, but I did think one passage in the review was wrong:

“With Diem overthrown and assassinated, Moyar’s story ends with the fateful American decision in the spring of 1965 to commit troops, and with our author chagrined but not unhopeful–not least because, after a string of ineffectual warlords forever falling into the trap of listening to American advisers demanding democratic reforms, two generals worthy of Diem’s thuggish legacy, Nguyen Cao Ky and Nguyen Van Thieu, acceded to the civilian leadership of South Vietnam.”

Although he is mocking Moyar’s tone – the idea that the softie Americans prematurely advising democracy clues us in to the liberals in the woodpile – in actuality, it wasn’t democracy that worried the Americans, it was negotiation. In that crucial period, the elite swapping places at the head of the government in South Vietnam got it into their heads to actually unconditionally negotiate with Vietnam and the NLF, with the probability looming that – horrors! – they would actually allow the NLF to join the government. So Americans promptly undermined South Vietnamese sovereignty by staging the overthrow of that section of the South Vietnamese government.

It is important to remember that the horror and inhumanity of the American involvement in South Vietnam happened on many levels, one of which was the American search for an intransigent, anti-communist South Vietnamese government. Not content with breaking the Geneva accords, the U.S. calmly and callously violated the sovereignty of South Vietnam whenever it pleased – and ironic counterpoint to the supposed reason the Americans were in the war, which was to defend South Vietnam’s sovereignty. Par for the hypocritical course, but a decision that hardened lines in the war and, eventually, made it impossible for North Vietnam to be satisfied with anything other than the overthrow of the Saigon government. In the same way, of course, American plays a double ledger game with Iraqi sovereignty. When we want to, we accuse Iran of violating it, and when we want to, we hold Iranian delegates invited by the Iraqi government hostage on Iraqi territory because… well, because we don’t really give a shit about Iraqi sovereignty. The same double ledger effect allows American to hire a private Einsatzgruppe guard, Blackwater, and give them carte blanche to murder Iraqis over the protests of the highest levels of the Iraqi government.

The revisionists have succeeded in making the big issue in the dispute about the war whether we could ‘win’ it, while, of course, making ‘winning’ into an empty abstraction. A more intelligent reading of the relevance of the Vietnam war to Bush’s vanity war in Mesopotamia is the way it was that the American hardline, enforced against the will even of its puppets, conduced to the American disaster. Fredrik Logevall’s Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam examines the American fear of South Vietnamese ‘neutralism’.

12

Bruce McCarthy 10.02.07 at 1:19 am

The fact that some people might pose or attempt to answer (or evade) questions with racist motives does not invalidate the questions. As the first commenter says, the question of whether IQ is affected by genetics outside of documented syndromes obviously has a discoverable answer.

The question may not have been well posed initially, but it is well posed by Cosma and yet not answered. I don’t object to having the questioner’s motives questions – unless that questioning is used as an excuse not to answer the question.

Also, the fact that other factors may also affect IQ does not invalidate the question of whether there is a genetic component.

In an interesting parallel to this post, it’s been my experience that people often reject scientific findings on the same basis that they reject arguments against the Iraq war – because they don’t wish what they hear to be true. One group is on the left and the other on the right, but the same illogic is at play.

Folks assume that a finding that there is a genetic component to IQ will validate racism. Racism is bad so therefore the finding must be bad. Well, I’m sorry, that just doesn’t follow. Steven Pinker does a good job with this issue in How the Mind Works.

I don’t believe this is true, but what if it turned out that because of genetic factors, on average the raw IQ score of black people was 5 points lower at birth controlling for all other factors than the average score for white people. What as a society would we do with that information? I suspect some people would say that meant we needed to provide assistance to such people to even the playing field, others would say it just proved they were right that white people were superior, and most people would sensibly conclude that it was irrelevant for the most part because individual differences would swamp any such statistical averages anyway. In other words, nothing would change except we’d move science along and be better informed in dealing with medical issues.

We can only deal with racism on the basis of facts not on the basis of what we wish to be true. Let’s not avoid pursuing and discussing the facts out of fear of what we might learn.

13

Seth Finkelstein 10.02.07 at 1:31 am

As I said – Song: how-do-we-know-racism-isn’t-true?

So, let’s see if this works: Are you really suggesting that inequality is so minor that racism is a viable hypothesis?

Pre-emptive verses noted:
I’m-being-censored
You’re-being-PC
Science-must-be-free
That’s-an-ad-hominem
Racism-is-a-bad-word
etc. etc.

I’m trying to figure out if there’s some way to rhetorically avoid going round and round the song.
Maybe there’s nothing to stop the strategy of sing it loudly, in reply to anything.

14

LizardBreath 10.02.07 at 1:32 am

I don’t believe this is true, but what if it turned out that because of genetic factors, on average the raw IQ score of black people was 5 points lower at birth controlling for all other factors than the average score for white people.

If I were to have the temerity to summarize Shalizi’s post (which obviously I can’t in a sentence), it’s that (1) we are so implausibly far from being able to control for ‘all other factors’ that our current attempts to do so can’t tell us anything like what you suggest, and (2) the concept of ‘raw IQ score’ isn’t meaningful without an understanding of how much, and how, environment can affect IQ. At our current state of knowledge about intelligence, the question you ask isn’t one with a meaningful answer that we just don’t know yet.

15

Matt Weiner 10.02.07 at 1:41 am

the question of whether IQ is affected by genetics outside of documented syndromes obviously has a discoverable answer

Why is it obvious? There are lots of (well-posed) questions we don’t know how to find answers to.

Shalizi says that to do a sound twin study of IQ “twins from a representative sample of the genetic variation in the population would need to be adopted into families with a representative sample of the environmental variation in the population, with no gene-environment correlations introduced by the adoption process itself,” and lots more confounding factors besides. This is obviously unfeasible. So why is it obvious that there is some feasible way to answer the question?

16

Karen 10.02.07 at 1:51 am

Here are some people, especially the commenters, who have based their entire existence on the premises that: 1. IQ is almost entirely genetic; 2. It is immutable; and 3. black people don’t have very much of it. If anyone can find anything that isn’t vile about this, I’d be happy to read it, but so long as people hold the views expressed in the blog and the comments, I’m in favor of completely stopping all research into anything related to IQ. Humans cannot use this knowledge for anything but evil. And Bruce McCarthy, if you really think most people would consider a 5 point deficit between the black and white averages irrelevant, you live among much better people than I do.

17

Neil 10.02.07 at 1:55 am

Shalizi says that to do a sound twin study of IQ “twins from a representative sample of the genetic variation in the population would need to be adopted into families with a representative sample of the environmental variation in the population, with no gene-environment correlations introduced by the adoption process itself,” and lots more confounding factors besides. This is obviously unfeasible. So why is it obvious that there is some feasible way to answer the question?

18

Neil 10.02.07 at 1:56 am

The previous was meant to be a block quote, quoting Matt Weiner. And it was meant to be followed by…

Thoroughgoing interactionism ensures that even this study would not provide us with the information that the people who think the question has an answer want. They want to know what is the relationship between genes and IQ (goddamit!). But there is no relationship between genes and phenoptypic traits outside a particular environment, b/c the norm of reaction is never additive. In other words, the study will tell you only about the relationship between that range of genoptypes and that range of environments; in principle, it can tell you nothing about the relationship in other environments, even nearby ones. A “gene for” lower IQ in environment 1 might be a “gene for” higher IQ in environment 2, and 1 and 2 might differ in small and apparently irrelevant ways.

19

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 2:04 am

“I’m in favor of completely stopping all research into anything related to IQ. Humans cannot use this knowledge for anything but evil.”

Oh, BS. Has it ever occurred to you that if we come to understand the basis of differences in innate intelligence, we could find a way to intervene, and raise it?

Modern technological society depends on a number of disciplines which are, to put it bluntly, beyond the capacity of people of average intelligence to usefully contribute to. It’s the tail of the IQ distribution, several sigma out, that drives progress, that keeps technological society running.

And both science and technology are gradually growing more complex, the threshold level of intellectual capacity necessary to contribute to it’s advancement, and not merely mark time, rising relative to that curve, gradually reducing the fraction of the population able to explore new frontiers.

If we can intervene to shift the curve over just a bit, the fraction of the population which is actually capable of contributing to the advancement of science and engineering will grow enormously, to the benefit of everyone.

THAT is what we stand to gain when we come to actually understand the functioning of the human brain, and the basis of differences between one person and another’s intellectual capacity.

20

Seth Finkelstein 10.02.07 at 2:18 am

Brett Bellmore : A stirring cry for prenatal care, Head Start, tons and tons of education support, etc.
All commonly denigrated by conservatives and Republicans. It really does make one wonder at the motives of the people pushing genetic “explanations”.

21

Karen 10.02.07 at 2:31 am

Brett Bellmore, how would we do what you suggest fairly? Wouldn’t it be the case that the people who already get most of the goodies in life would hoard that one as well? One of my professors in college was fond of saying that the only theological proposition capable of empirical proof was the doctrine of total depravity, and I’ve never seen anything to prove him wrong. Pursuing any policy based in the idea of human benevolence is bound to be a disaster, including this one.

22

Chris 10.02.07 at 2:33 am

I wouldn’t necessarily deny that there are other more important issues involved here, but as it’s my particular corner I should chip in that the evidence that Down syndrome and similar conditions are linked to unremediable IQ deficits is just about as weak as the race-linked evidence, for many of the same reasons; see my article in Disability and Society, here – http://home.vicnet.net.au/~borth/DOWN1.HTM

23

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 3:11 am

“A stirring cry for prenatal care, Head Start, tons and tons of education support, etc.”

Indeed; I’m not arguing that we should ignore the only interventions we presently have to increase innate intelligence, on the contrary. I’m merely arguing that we need to understand intelligence enough to find more. And that we can no more allow the left to block lines of inquiry that might overturn it’s sacred prejudices than we can the right.

“Pursuing any policy based in the idea of human benevolence is bound to be a disaster, including this one.”

Who said anything about benevolence? To quote Adam Smith, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.”

24

Seth Finkelstein 10.02.07 at 3:16 am

“And that we can no more allow the left to block lines of inquiry …”

The song again! How-do-we-know-racism-isn’t-true …

OK, I’ll mark my attempt as a failure. Response is to sing the song, every reply.

25

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 3:17 am

BTW, an emphasis on “prenatal” nutrition is a serious mistake here; If we’ve learned anything from research into prenatal nutrition and intelligence, it’s that the key period for intervention comes before the woman knows she’s pregnant. What we’ve got to be concerned about is the nutrition, PERIOD, of women during their fertile years, and stop framing it as a matter only pregnant women should concern themselves with.

26

Matt McIrvin 10.02.07 at 3:18 am

If anyone can find anything that isn’t vile about this, I’d be happy to read it, but so long as people hold the views expressed in the blog and the comments, I’m in favor of completely stopping all research into anything related to IQ.

But since the statements seem to be unsupported by the best evidence (as Shalizi eloquently explains), wouldn’t it be the case that more and better research related to IQ would work against these attitudes?

I’m in favor of stopping bad and tendentious research, of which there admittedly seems to be a lot in this field.

That said, to my mind, Shalizi’s article is one of the most devastating things I’ve read on the subject, maybe more effective than Stephen Jay Gould’s writing because Shalizi comes at this as an expert on statistics.

There seems to be a strange split in attitudes between evolutionary biologists and psychometricians, with some of the latter regarding an inborn genetic basis for group differences in intelligence as so well-supported only an ideologically motivated crank would deny it, while the evolutionary biologists mostly believe this is nonsense. And it’s all tied up in politics: I tend to find the anti-hereditarian position more convincing, but I’ve never been sure it isn’t just because I’m ideologically liberal and emotionally invested in anti-racism and am hearing what I want to hear (and hereditarians on the right are always quick to claim that this is exactly what is going on: google for “liberal creationism”). So it’s interesting to see Shalizi raising basic methodological objections from a position of expertise.

27

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 3:25 am

Seth, calling it a “song” isn’t an argument. If it’s true, it isn’t racism, it’s just a brute fact.

28

bi 10.02.07 at 3:29 am

Oh great, so following from the Adam Smith quote, the main benefit of IQ studies is that it’ll allow Rich Corporations to make more money by offering IQ Enhancement Services at exorbitant prices. Yeah, that’s indeed “to the benefit of everyone”. It always is.

And what’s so sacrosanct about the particular measure known as IQ, that we’re allowed to use it, but _not allowed to question its methodological foundations?_ That’s so very scientific indeed!

29

Seth Finkelstein 10.02.07 at 3:53 am

Right you are, in that calling it a song is a derisive characterization of the trivial argument. The point is that these threads have a standard pattern. Someone repeatedly makes the trivial argument how-do-we-know-racism-isn’t-true – which might as well be singing a song for all it’s worth. I’m trying to look at this at a meta-level, figuring out where to go from there. Engaging it directly doesn’t work, since they’ll just sing the song loudly (repeat it again). I tried something above, didn’t work. Same problem. I don’t have any more ideas at the moment. Maybe it’s unsolvable.

No, it’s racism – that’s what racism means. It’s just if it’s true, racism is true. Part of the scientific facade is trying to avoid making the argument that bluntly, since it kind of gives the game away at the start.

30

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 3:54 am

The point of the Smith quote is not that we don’t expect things of other people, but merely that we don’t expect to get those things out of benevolence. Enlightened self interest is a much more reliable lever.

And question the methodological foundations of IQ measurements all you like; What have I said to suggest that anyone not question them? Rather, I expect that you won’t like the ultimate answer to those methodological questions. It would be positively weird if children inherited the shapes of their noses, but not the shapes of their minds…

31

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 3:58 am

“No, it’s racism – that’s what racism means.”

Nope. Racism is irrational prejudice concerning race. If I express the belief that blacks tend to be a bit darker skinned on average than Swedes, for instance, that isn’t racist.

If you’re going to define racism so that the truth can be racist, you’d better expect the epithet to lose it’s sting, because you’ve defined it as something nobody should feel ashamed of.

32

bi 10.02.07 at 4:05 am

“Enlightened self interest is a much more reliable lever.”

And I just pointed out what a concrete realization of that “enlightened self interest” would look like. Your abandonment of concrete descriptions in favour of fluffy cloud-cuckoo descriptions speaks volumes about your respect for reality-checking.

“It would be positively weird if children inherited the shapes of their noses, but not the shapes of their minds…”

Do you realize that _you’ve just unquestioningly accepted the method of IQ measurement yet again?_ There’s _no indication_ whatsoever that the method of giving people a quiz and then writing an equation IQ = MA / CA has anything to do with what a person’s brain looks like at birth. You’re just assuming, _on faith_, that there’s such a relation. That’s so scientific!

“Rather, I expect that you won’t like the ultimate answer to those methodological questions.”

Maybe you can answer the specific methodological question I just raised. But I guess you’ll just go “nyah nyah nyah, IQ = MA / CA is perfectly sound, no problem at all, nothing to see here, move on”. Or you’ll just pretend that nobody ever mentioned any problem in the first place.

33

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 4:07 am

Nah, I’ll just go with not being a scientific nihilist, committed to the impossibility of knowledge in areas where I’d prefer ignorance..

34

Seth Finkelstein 10.02.07 at 4:07 am

I hate to play dictionary, but Merriam-Webster:

Racism:
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race

Which is what we are dealing with as an argument, prettification notwithstanding.

That is, “blacks tend to be a bit darker skinned than Swedes”, does not carry the connotation that darker skin has inherent superiority to lighter skin. But that is the implication of IQ.
People aren’t doing this for reflective index measurements. They’re doing this for far, err, darker reasons.

35

Neil 10.02.07 at 4:08 am

Brett, ignore the arguments all you like, the fact remains these are questions without answers. You do not understand the science. You do not understand norms of variance. You do not know what you are talking about. It is not an ideologically driven desire to foreclose science that brings these things about: it is the truth about how phenotypes get built (to be fair to you, your leftist critics are making a parallel mistake – both sides think there is a debate to be had, and there isn’t).

36

bi 10.02.07 at 4:11 am

OK, so Brett Bellmore’s argument is that IQ = MA / CA * 100 — I forgot the 100 the last time — is Obviously(tm) a valid indication of what’s in the brain at birth, because to suggest otherwise would be to embrace post-modernist nihilist relativism.

Well, yeah. Let the jaw-dropping commence.

37

rilkefan 10.02.07 at 4:15 am

“Recall that Turkheimer et al. found a heritability which rose monotonically with socioeconomic status, starting around zero at low status and going up to around 0.8 at high status. Even this is probably an over-estimate, since it neglected maternal effects and other shared non-familial environment, correlations between variance components, etc. Under such circumstances, talking about “the” heritability of IQ is nonsense.”

This conclusion seems pretty desperate to me.

38

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 4:34 am

Indeed, one would EXPECT heritablity to rise with rising socioeconomic status; As higher socioeconomic status is correlated with better nurture, and there’s only so good nurture can get, at some point the effects of nurture limit out, and the only thing left to result in differences IS nature.

Of course, one can only speak of the heritablity of IQ under certain circumstances, but that doesn’t make heritablity nonsense, it makes it a function of circumstances.

39

Neil 10.02.07 at 4:42 am

Of course, one can only speak of the heritablity of IQ under certain circumstances, but that doesn’t make heritablity nonsense, it makes it a function of circumstances.

Well it makes it useless. You want to know “is IQ in the genes”? And heritability estimates don’t answer that question. They answer the question “what is the heritability of IQ in these circumstances?” Unless we had an independent way of individuating circumstances and knowing which ones were causally relevant, the answer is pointless. It doesn’t tell us how to increase IQ, or whether in different circumstances it would have a quite different heritability. Since the norm of variation point applies to any factor you care to hold fixed, there is no way to individuate circumstances in a way that makes the estimate useful for anything. It’s a waste of time and resources. And, yes, it is ideologically motivated (since there is no point in investigating the correlation of IQ with X, for any value of X, why pick X=race)?

40

bi 10.02.07 at 4:43 am

When’s Brett Bellmore going to address the question of what the formula IQ = MA / CA * 100 has to do with a person’s brain at birth? I thought he’s all for more information and more discussion? What’s happening now?

And when’s Brett Bellmore going to tell us exactly what his supposed “enlightened self interest” with regard to IQ is about, if it’s not about allowing Rich Corporations to make more money by offering IQ Enhancement Services at exorbitant prices? Where’s the discussion?

41

bi 10.02.07 at 4:44 am

And, what Neil said.

42

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 5:01 am

“When’s Brett Bellmore going to address the question of what the formula IQ = MA / CA * 100 has to do with a person’s brain at birth?”

An interesting subject for research. I’d say that IQ is a pretty crude measure of something rather complex.

“if it’s not about allowing Rich Corporations to make more money by offering IQ Enhancement Services at exorbitant prices?”

Every innovation is originally available only at exorbitant prices. The first PC I worked on cost as much as a luxury car, now I’ve got a phone with more memory and processing power. A service can’t get cheaper and more widely available, if you’re never allowed to offer it to the people who can afford it at first, you know.

43

kvn 10.02.07 at 6:15 am

Funny how when you read the comments in threads about IQ heritability over at Marginal Revolution, the overwhelming majority of the contributions are from people who seem to have long accepted the average IQ scores reported according to race have a primarily genetic/evolutionary basis. It’s not merely a matter of heritability, which might well have more relevance to individual case studies. No, the libertarian bloggers at MR seem to be pretty well convinced that the IQ ranges recorded for people from the developing world (at least the one’s with lower average IQs) can be explained by their supposed low genetic stock.
When anyone tries to bring up the possibility that Somalis (one example that was used at MR) might produce lower average IQ scores due to environmental reasons, they’re resoundingly bemoaned as scientifically-illiterate bleeding-hearts. What a difference a blog makes.

44

Harald Korneliussen 10.02.07 at 6:27 am

Brett Bellmore can’t recall running into people who claim that IQ is both higly inheritable and non-malleable.

Harald Korneliussen deeply envies Brett Bellmore.

Shalizi’s closing remarks, in the bit omitted by the elipsis, are the most interesting, I think. He says: “More interestingly, conditions like Williams’s Syndrome, Downs’s Syndrome, etc., are genetically caused, and lead to reasonably predictable patterns of cognitive deficits, affecting different abilities in different ways. [...] The fact that different genetic disorders lead to different patterns of cognitive deficits, rather than just generally making people duller all around, suggests ways of disentangling which genes are relevant to which abilities through which molecular mechanisms.”

My emphasis. This is the most promising avenue of this kind of science, and it hints at the things that can be attained if our understanding of intelligence can be wrested away from the heirs of Terman and Burt. To the people who would use the knowledge to understand and to help humanity, away from those who, right up to our day, are only interested in it as a tool to justify their own greatness.

“I am already heartily sick of the subject, which is turning into the huge time-suck I was afraid it would be”, Shalizi says. Since I have run into no shortages of the more thuggish variety of Bell Curve fans, I deeply sympathize; I can only imagine what it must be like for someone who actually has to deal with it professionally. However, if anyone feels the calling, there are a ton of wikipedia entries which need cleanup.

45

Danny Yee 10.02.07 at 7:31 am

Someone suggested:
I don’t believe this is true, but what if it turned out that because of genetic factors, on average the raw IQ score of black people was 5 points lower at birth controlling for all other factors than the average score for white people.

This is impossible, because “black” and “white” are not biological/genetic classifications. On this subject, see a recent article of PLOS Medicine http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0040271&ct=1&SESSID=850325c9f6ed953be51997e3b7cf32d2http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0040271&ct=1&SESSID=850325c9f6ed953be51997e3b7cf32d2

46

bi 10.02.07 at 7:54 am

Brett Bellmore:

“An interesting subject for research. I’d say that IQ is a pretty crude measure of something rather complex.”

So you’re admitting that IQ is a “pretty crude measure”, yet you’re claiming that anyone who even dares to question the underpinnings of the IQ = 100 * MA / CA formula, and the uses of this formula for particular purposes, is Obviously(tm) a truth-hating leftoid relativist.

“Every innovation is originally available only at exorbitant prices.”

Which must mean that Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web doesn’t exist? Your fact-free prattle about “enlightened self-interest” is just an euphemistic way of dodging your attitude that you find this whole “IQ studies” thing, no matter how slipshod, as an acceptable way to satisfy the greed and ego of rich white males.

= = =

Harald Korneliussen:

“it hints at the things that can be attained if our understanding of intelligence can be wrested away from the heirs of Terman and Burt. To the people who would use the knowledge to understand and to help humanity, away from those who, right up to our day, are only interested in it as a tool to justify their own greatness.”

Well said.

47

Danny Yee 10.02.07 at 7:58 am

48

Danny Yee 10.02.07 at 8:00 am

Aaarrgh. Let’s try that a third time. The PLOS Medicine article “Racial Categories in Medical Practice: How Useful Are They?” is at http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0040271

Responding to that in the same issue is “Racial Categories in Medicine: A Failure of Evidence-Based Practice?” http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0040287

49

bad Jim 10.02.07 at 8:15 am

Once upon a time, intelligence meant being able to track an animal, fashion the tools that could kill it, using the materials at hand, painstakingly flaking arrow points from a flint core, binding them to artfully fletched arrow shafts, and launching them precisely at the prey with an equally exquisitely constructed bow.

This may be merely the boy’s version; what kept our forebears alive may have been as much what the girls gleaned and dug, knowing what to look for, when to collect it and how to prepare it.

These are no longer the skills we test in assessing intelligence. Instead, people have grown accustomed to, become passionate concerning, deracinated metrics originally designed for urban children. We’re confident that this new collection of skills separates the brights from the brutes.

Today I was pissed that my youngest brother couldn’t find north at noon with the sun shining.

It’s been doctrinal belief for thousands of years that women and other men, typically dark, are less than human, and supporting evidence has always been ready to hand, and reliably eventually discredited. We’ve always been told that members of X can’t do Y, where X always includes women and blacks, and Y could be any desirable activity from medicine to mathematics, and it always turns out to be false.

And now, as then, we’re told “This time it’s different. Now there’s solid proof.”

50

Kevin Donoghue 10.02.07 at 9:00 am

Several of Brett Bellmore’s dubious arguments have been dealt with but he seems to have got away with this:

Modern technological society depends on a number of disciplines which are, to put it bluntly, beyond the capacity of people of average intelligence to usefully contribute to. It’s the tail of the IQ distribution, several sigma out, that drives progress, that keeps technological society running.

The problem with this claim is that it is untrue. It is not necessary to have a particularly high IQ to make important contributions to science, for example. James Watson, of DNA fame, scored 122 which as he says is “respectable, but definitely not stellar”. It certainly isn’t “several sigma out”. In most fields the really high achievers are people with intense curiosity and great stamina. IQ tests are not very good for identifying them. In fact they are not even very good for predicting youthful scholastic aptitude – the marshmallow test is better.

51

Aidan Kehoe 10.02.07 at 9:58 am

Please to be noting that arguing that we don’t have a good definition of intelligence is as specious here as it is in artificial intelligence; the OED gives ‘facility [ease] of understanding’ for it, and I think most people will agree with that on considering it.

Kevin, Brett was talking about stochastic generalities, and your counterexample is one person in particular. Both his argument and your counterexample can be true at the same time. And I haven’t seen any data that correlate curiosity and great stamina with really high achievement, but there are lots that correlate IQ with job and scholastic performance.

52

Kevin Donoghue 10.02.07 at 10:25 am

No, Brett’s argument and mine cannot be true at the same time, Aidan. He didn’t frame it in stochastic terms so one counterexample is all it takes. If someone with an IQ of 122 can win a race against the likes of Linus Pauling then an IQ “several sigma out” from the mean is not a requirement for great achievement.

The fact that IQ and scholastic performance are correlated is hardly remarkable – Binet designed his test to help identify kids with learning difficulties. Brett explicitly refers to very high achievers and IQ tests aren’t much good for identifying those.

53

Nick Barnes 10.02.07 at 10:47 am

Bruce McCarthy asks:

what if it turned out that because of genetic factors, on average the raw IQ score of black people was 5 points lower at birth controlling for all other factors than the average score for white people

Danny Yee points out that this proposition might be absurd on the face of it (although since “black” and “white” are cultural categories, and culture may have a profound effect on ante-natal environmental factors, I’m not completely sure on that point).
But for those who imagine it as a possible research conclusion, I have a question: why is such a proposed outcome always this way around? Why not this:

What if it turned out that because of genetic factors, on average the raw IQ score of black people was 5 points higher at birth controlling for all other factors than the average score for white people?

And for a proposition which does not suffer from the problem pointed out by Yee:

What if it turned out that because of genetic factors, on average the raw IQ score of people with brown eyes was 5 points higher at birth controlling for all other factors than the average score for people with blue eyes?

Happily, thanks to the huge malleability of IQ (and, more worthwhile, the huge malleability of achievement), such a finding would simply indicate that blue-eyed children should be good candidates for particular kinds of additional help. Binet would be pleased.

54

Aidan Kehoe 10.02.07 at 11:28 am

‘He didn’t frame it in stochastic terms …’

Interepreting it as anything but a stochastic generality is at best not assuming good faith and at worst wilfully side-tracking. Like bringing up a Cindy Crawford vs. Napoleon comparison in response to an assertion that men are taller than women.

55

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 11:45 am

“This is impossible, because “black” and “white” are not biological/genetic classifications.”

No, because one genetic trait can be statistically linked to another. You’re trying to declare impossible by ‘logic’ something which is only contingently true or untrue.

“But for those who imagine it as a possible research conclusion, I have a question: why is such a proposed outcome always this way around?”

Possibly because the underlying reality which drives the conclusion is, stubbornly, and no matter who much well meaning people wish otherwise, this way around?

56

Cian 10.02.07 at 11:46 am

#22. “I should chip in that the evidence that Down syndrome and similar conditions are linked to unremediable IQ deficits is just about as weak as the race-linked evidence, for many of the same reasons; see my article in Disability and Society, here”

Wow that’s a bad article. You misrepresent Zigler and Hodapp (I think you should reread them, and some of the other work on the developmental hypothesis), are completely unaware of the work on what the cognitive differences between individuals with downs and the “normal” population. Or for that matter, that people like Zigler and Hodapp were at pains to point out that IQ is a poor measure of ability, and that finer measures of cognitive functioning were generally needed. And these show that individuals with Down’s syndrome perform normally on certain cognitive scales, and below normal on others. They are indeed different.

Were you aware that one reason that individuals with Down’s syndrome are doing better than they used to, is because we have a much better understanding of those differences, and how to address them with appropriate teaching measures. Individuals with Down’s syndrome have congitive weaknesses in certain areas, and develop normally in others. Similarly, they develop certain skills at the same rate as their peers (if later), others much later.

And the section where you speculate on how much further their IQ could be raised is simply ludicrous.

57

JP Stormcrow 10.02.07 at 11:59 am

There is no scarcity of things in the world to wonder about. More specifically, there is no scarcity of things about which to form hypotheses and examine scientifically. So this is my question: Why do so many continue** to feel that it is important to attempt to sort out what part of “intelligence” (a fluid concept that glosses a multitude of specific cognitive abilities) is due to hededity vs. environment (a tough subject to even get a handle for much, much simpler characteristics) and then apply it to “race” (a very problematic construct re: social vs. biolgocial characterization)? This clearly not a line of inquiry that is likely to advance our understanding of the world or ourselves (except in a meta kind of way, by exposing what fools we be). Why the continued interest and energy? If you re-ask the question in the light of what we know today you end up in quite a different place, pursuing something much more specific, testable and meaningful to increasing our understanding of the world.

**I do not mean to say that the historical roots of this examination are not clear, but I am guessing that none of the modern-day enthusiasts for this line of inquiry care to claim a too-close kinship with that foul swamp.

58

JP Stormcrow 10.02.07 at 12:06 pm

Jesus!
Heredity not “hededity”, biological not “biolgocial”, insert “is” between “This” & “clearly”.

Inability to recognize typos in blog comment previews positively correlated with sexual virility. Now there’s a hypothesis worth testing.

59

Ray 10.02.07 at 12:32 pm

19 “Modern technological society depends on a number of disciplines which are, to put it bluntly, beyond the capacity of people of average intelligence to usefully contribute to. It’s the tail of the IQ distribution, several sigma out, that drives progress, that keeps technological society running.”

53. “Interpreting it as anything but a stochastic generality is at best not assuming good faith and at worst wilfully side-tracking.”

No, that’s nonsense, it would render the whole statement meaningless. And look at the next sentence – “And both science and technology are gradually growing more complex, the threshold level of intellectual capacity necessary to contribute to it’s advancement, and not merely mark time, rising relative to that curve, gradually reducing the fraction of the population able to explore new frontiers.”

Brett argued that a certain level of intelligence was _necessary_ to contribute. If it isn’t, he’s wrong, end of story.

60

Barry 10.02.07 at 12:32 pm

“Interepreting it as anything but a stochastic generality is at best not assuming good faith and at worst wilfully side-tracking. Like bringing up a Cindy Crawford vs. Napoleon comparison in response to an assertion that men are taller than women.”

Posted by Aidan Kehoe

Aidan, are you ignorant of Brett? If so, I envy you. Any assumption of good faith or honesty on his part has been violated years ago.

61

Nick Barnes 10.02.07 at 12:41 pm

54:

Possibly because the underlying reality which drives the conclusion is, stubbornly, and no matter who much well meaning people wish otherwise, this way around?

If I thought you were prepared to debate this in good faith, I’d ask you how you know this. But since you evidently aren’t, plonk
(can anyone recommend a Firefox killfile extension for WordPress?)

62

Kevin Donoghue 10.02.07 at 12:44 pm

Aidan accuses me of “bringing up a Cindy Crawford vs. Napoleon comparison in response to an assertion that men are taller than women”.

Actually it’s more like pointing to Napoleon in order to refute the claim that only men of well-above-average stature can exercise leadership. Brett’s claim is that modern society “depends on a number of disciplines which are, to put it bluntly, beyond the capacity of people of average intelligence to usefully contribute to.” Not only that, but the drivers of progress need to be “several sigma out” in terms of IQ.

The fact that someone with an unremarkable IQ can win a Nobel prize in one of the most important disciplines of our age refutes Brett’s claim.

63

Matt Weiner 10.02.07 at 1:02 pm

rilkefan quoted:

“Turkheimer et al. found a heritability which rose monotonically with socioeconomic status…. Under such circumstances, talking about “the” heritability of IQ is nonsense.” [ellipsis mine]

and wrote:
This conclusion seems pretty desperate to me.

I’m not sure why he thinks that (no argument having been supplied), but if I read Shalizi correctly he’s pointing out that there can be no single value for heritability. (Hence the quotation marks around “the.”) Talking about a number for the heritability of IQ is as silly as talking about what “the” temperature in the U.S. is today. (Probably more so, because there are ways to average the temperature over the whole U.S. landmass.) It may be clearer in what Shalizi wrote when he first mentioned these results, which is Anyone who tells you that the heritability of IQ has any particular value needs to explain away findings like this. (Italics his, bold mine.)

So the conclusion isn’t desperate, but obvious when you think about it. And you can find people quoting a single number for heritability all the time — type “heritability of IQ” into Google and it takes you to the Wikipedia entry, which quotes single-number heritabilities from a range of studies.

64

Wax Banks 10.02.07 at 1:39 pm

1) Cosma’s article was stirring; he really is a treasure. This thread not so much.

2) Does anyone else find that Perlstein’s writing gets considerably less interesting the further he gets from his own firsthand research and the closer he gets to his favored online-liberal audience? i.e. Before the Storm is a breathtaking bit of learned narrative history, and his speech to conservative scholars (up at the generally dull HuffPo) a few years ago was extraordinary, but his blogging has slowly transformed into the better-boilerplate style that counts as greatness in the lefty blogosphere. This book review, while effective and admirable, still reads in places like a bit of a blog post.

It has a…shrillness. (Heh. Indeed.) Maybe he’s always written this way for his political audience, but his increasing insistence that conservatism essentially equals ignorance and stupidity (check out those opening paragraphs) makes his more straightforward fact-checking of asses difficult to care about.

65

SamChevre 10.02.07 at 1:48 pm

JQ,

In answer to your question, my preferred version of revisionism on Iraq is “absolutely nothing will work if it’s run by idiots. Also, the Iraq reconstruction project was not likely to work because it was fundamentally ill-conceived.”

On the much more engrossing intelligence debate, here’s the question I think is the interesting question. It may not be answerable.

When I choose the 10 tallest people in a room, and they are mostly male, I am pretty sure that is OK. When I choose the 10 most athletic people in a room, and they are mostly male, I wonder about my criteria for athleticism, and about fairness in the wider society. If, when I choose the 10 best mathematicians in a room, they are all Asian, is that like height, or like athleticism?

66

Kevin Donoghue 10.02.07 at 2:47 pm

Samchevre,

I’m not sure if it sheds light on your question, but I just took a look at the Contents page of Stuart Hollingdale’s Makers of Mathematics. Early chapters: Egyptians and Greeks; then India and the Muslim world put in an appearance; then Renaissance Italy; then France and England, in stiff competition; in the later chapters we meet a lot of Germans; and the Irish (or perhaps I should say the Anglo-Irish) finally put in an appearance in Chapter 15, in the late 19th century.

Does that suggest a pattern to you?

67

engels 10.02.07 at 4:14 pm

[Perlstein's] increasing insistence that conservatism essentially equals ignorance and stupidity (check out those opening paragraphs) makes his more straightforward fact-checking of asses difficult to care about

Conservatism doesn’t equal ignorance and stupidity. Conservatism equals the veneration of ignorance and stupidity. But anyway should the fact that you don’t like his tone make it “difficult to care about” his factual points?

68

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 4:17 pm

“If I thought you were prepared to debate this in good faith, I’d ask you how you know this.”

Did I say I knew this? I could have sworn there was a “possibly” in there somewhere… Sometimes I wonder in these arguments if I speak the same language as the rest of you. I suspect the real problem, though, is not the language, but that you’ve got a mental construct of the nature of people who disagree with you, and use it to load down with all sorts of extraneous implications some really sparse utterances.

69

Bruce McCarthy 10.02.07 at 5:32 pm

There are oversimplifications in the idea of measuring “raw IQ at birth” and comparing it to race. I have two autistic children and I am very familiar with the many variables that go into what we call “intelligence” and how those variables can produce complex profiles of learning ability.

And that’s just one example. The notion of measuring IQ at birth is actually kind of silly since as I understand it standard IQ tests measure a ratio of what a child has learned compared to what children of the same age on average have learned. So measuring IQ at birth would certainly be challenging.

And others have mentioned the difficulty of precisely determining “race” to compare IQ against.

I recognize and admit all of these flaws in my example about black and white people and a hypothetical difference in IQ at birth. I admit them because they aren’t relevant to my points.

My first point was that people with political or idealogical agendas (people I try to believe are int he minority) will always use whatever facts are available (plus those of their own invention on occasion – see the Iraq war) to support their own point of view.

My second point was that this phenomenon should not prevent us from pursuing scientific questions that can benefit humanity. We may not be able to define IQ or race, but we can definitely study the factors that affect the operation of different systems in the brain. Some will no doubt be genetic. Some will be environmental. There will interactions between them. Some will have more global effects. Some will have very specific effects.

All of this leads like any scientific endeavor to increased understanding and increased ability to prevent and treat illness, to better educational techniques, to better nutrition, and to generally improve the human condition.

I don’t like racism. I don’t like corporate profiteering. But I don’t want to avoid asking questions because I haven’t figured out how to ask them quite right yet or because the answers are hard to tease out, or because someone might misuse those answers.

70

Andrew R. 10.02.07 at 6:21 pm

I’m coming a bit late into this thread, but I want to add to the meta-question Seth raised. There needs to be some sort of distinction between a) scientists working on heritability of various cognitive abilities and b) people on the internet who desperately need to be told that on average, they are smarter than West Africans (cf. Sailer, Steve).

That B points to A and says, “See, it proves that black people are stupid!” doesn’t (or ideally shouldn’t) affect the work being done by A.

71

Bruce McCarthy 10.02.07 at 6:26 pm

Well said.

72

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 7:12 pm

“and b) people on the internet who desperately need to be told that on average, they are smarter than West Africans”

And who, strangely enough, desperately need to be told that, on average, they’re stupider than asians? How’s that work?

73

mq 10.02.07 at 7:19 pm

the drivers of progress need to be “several sigma out” in terms of IQ.

The fact that someone with an unremarkable IQ can win a Nobel prize in one of the most important disciplines of our age refutes Brett’s claim.

I sort of agree with Kevin’s general point, but…isn’t a 122 IQ in fact about 1.5 sigmas from the mean? Exception that proves a rule there, I’d say.

74

Andrew R. 10.02.07 at 8:09 pm

Brett,

Saying that blacks are stupid but physically adept and that Asians and Jews are cunning masterminds but physically weak has something of a “Goldilocks” quality. It’s essentially saying that whites are “just right,” well-balanced between the physical and mental. And that’s a common attitude among internet “scientific racists.”

For every one person on the internet who is generally interested in genetics and intelligent, there are nine others whose main concern could be summed up as, “Man, aren’t black people stupid?” These people are terrible because they take an area of study that could be fruitful and dirty it by association.

75

Sock Puppet of the Great Satan 10.02.07 at 8:17 pm

“And both science and technology are gradually growing more complex, the threshold level of intellectual capacity necessary to contribute to it’s advancement, and not merely mark time, rising relative to that curve, gradually reducing the fraction of the population able to explore new frontiers.”

Err, heard of the Flynn effect?

76

Brett Bellmore 10.02.07 at 9:01 pm

Andrew, so what you’re saying is that anybody who notices that races don’t just look different, who doesn’t claim their own race is the worst according to every metric, lays themselves open to charges of racism?

Yeah, Sock, I’ve heard of it. There’s substantial reason to believe that it represents the bottom being brought up to the middle, and it seems to be dying out in developed nations. I wouldn’t count on it to increase the number of high level geniuses in the next few decades, if I were you.

77

loren 10.02.07 at 9:21 pm

Cosma Shalizi writes (my italics): “Many people, I find, have the impression that heritability studies control for the environment, in the sense of regression. (Leave aside, for now, whether “controlling for” really does what people seem to think.)

A bit off-topic, but I it’s a wise statistician indeed who makes this sort of qualification. Would that others in the social and behavioural sciences might pay heed …

78

Kevin Donoghue 10.02.07 at 9:40 pm

Brett: I wouldn’t count on [the Flynn effect] to increase the number of high level geniuses in the next few decades, if I were you.

So presumably we are supposed to worry that the supply of people like these might prove inadequate:

http://www.mensa.org/index0.php?page=15

I doubt it. I think the American judicial system will find it only too easy to replace “Maximum” Morphonios and the fine art of domino-toppling will not be lost with the demise of Bob Speca, Jr.

79

Andrew R. 10.02.07 at 9:47 pm

No, Brett, what I’m saying is that it is somewhat suspicious that the conclusions that Internet Scientific Racists (hereafter ISR’s) come to make nice intuitive sense to them and also confirm a lot of general prejudices.

And that is why there needs to be a way to differentiate ISR’s and actual scientists.

80

JanieM 10.02.07 at 9:57 pm

Concerning Brett’s reply in 68: There’s a difference between “Possibly because the truth is such and such” (his statement in 55) and “Because the truth is possibly such and such” (the statement he is apparently trying, in 68, to pretend he made).

Just saying.

81

Cian 10.02.07 at 10:25 pm

Why is anyone taking Brett seriously? He thinks IQ scores are a meaningful measure of intelligence for gods sakes. Judging by his responses here he knows nothing about the field and isn’t terribly interested. He’s an idiot – treat him accordingly.

82

John Quiggin 10.02.07 at 10:35 pm

#65 samchevre – I agree that the Iraq reconstruction project was misconceived and run by idiots. Both the misconceived/totally unthought out nature of the project and the fact that idiots were in charge were known before the war started.

83

Nick Barnes 10.02.07 at 10:58 pm

Bruce@69: bravo. Now it seems to me, as a curious bystander – I have read quite a bit of the pop literature on the subject, but not a significant fraction of the primary literature, and I have the maths to follow along with Shalizi – that the Shalizi article summarizes the state of the art of understanding the different statistical factors in intelligence measurements. I feel that he explains clearly why we are a long way from being able to answer, or even meaningfully ask(*), questions of the kind you posed in comment 12. Science is about asking and then answering questions. There are certainly many fascinating questions which we can ask, and hope to answer, in this subject area. But I’m unconvinced that very many of them contain either the word “IQ” or the word “race”.

Even without the suspect notion of “IQ”, it seems far more likely to me – for reasons largely dealt with by Shalizi – that we could answer questions relating achievement to eye colour than ones relating it to skin colour. And the answers are likely to be at least as useful, and to have considerably less potential for harmful misuse.

What is the distribution of eye colours among Ashkenazi Jews?

(*) you show in comment 69 that you understand at least one way in which your particular question is meaningless (“raw IQ at birth”). One might just as well ask whether the dreams of blacks weigh more than those of whites, or whether their souls are different colours. This stuff might be useful for poetry or polemic or both, but isn’t science.

84

lemuel pitkin 10.02.07 at 11:26 pm

The beginning of wisdom here is to rememebr that genes do NOT code for intelligence, or any other trait. They code for proteins.

Obviously, the presence of different proteins in different cells results in different observable traits. But the pathway from protein to trait is typically complex, contingent and dependent on many otehr factors — the actions of other, the organism’s life-history, and the environment.

Any trait is 100% genetic, in the sense that there are genes without which the trait will never appear. And in the same sense, every trait is 100% environmental. (With intelligence this point has been made with the examples of severe birth defects and a hammer to the head.)

So the question becomes, given the normal range of genetic variation and the normal range of environmental variation, which accounts fo rmore of the observed variation of the trait? The problem is, there is no “normal range” of environmental variation. Environments vary historically, geographically, etc., and the normal range for one population will be different from the normal range for another. And this is even more true for human beings, in large part becasue the state of our knowledge is itself an important part of our environment. So the frequency of a given disease might be strongly correlated with the presence of a given gene until the pathway by which that gene operated was understood well enough to allow a cure, at which point the genetic correlation would become much weaker and the environmental correlation (specifically access to the appropriate treatment) much stronger.

There are lots of cases in nature where partcular genese and environments are essentially substitutes for each other, and where a trait is strongly genetic in one population and not at all in anotehr.

The bottom line being that a mere statistical correlation doesn’t tell us anything about the questions we’re really interested in. You have to understand the actual pathways conencting gene to trait. Until then, you have absolutely no basis for saying how stabel a given correlation is or how easily a geneic influence could be substituted with an environmental one.

And when it comes to the pathways between specific genes and intelligence (assuming we can observe it at all), we know nothing whatsoever.

85

lemuel pitkin 10.02.07 at 11:29 pm

the actions of other genes, that is.

86

Bruce McCarthy 10.03.07 at 12:14 am

Nick @ 83 has missed my point again. I’m not saying race and IQ are correlated or that we can meaningfully measure IQ (or race) as a single phenomenon.

I am saying that we can and should work to understand the genetic and environmental contributions to observed mental performance of different kinds and their interactions. Doing this will provide, as I said in 69 “increased ability to prevent and treat illness, to better educational techniques, to better nutrition, and to generally improve the human condition.

Lemuel @ 84 has also misunderstood my point. I am not saying there is a neat and exclusive correspondence between individual genes and mental characteristics. The fact that the relationships are complex, interrelated and mediated by environment makes them difficult to study – perhaps beyond our current scientific methods – but not theoretically and permanently impossible.

It’s also possible that eye color *is* more correlated with some individual mental trait than skin color. Again, not my point. I used skin color as a thought experiment only to illustrate my point about people using research results to support their preexisting ideologies.

I am suggesting nothing more radical than that we can gain value from studying the way the brain works and what factors (any factors – again, I am not focused on race – it was an example meant to call out a place where many people have an agenda) influence it.

Maybe it’s difficult. Surely it’s a mix of nature and nurture. Certainly some of the results will be misused. (Name a study for which this is not true.) Surely, though, it’s not impossible or without value.

87

Shawn 10.03.07 at 12:52 am

I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that someone would attempt revisionist history on the war….especially someone on the right.

88

Matt McIrvin 10.03.07 at 3:18 am

Modern technological society depends on a number of disciplines which are, to put it bluntly, beyond the capacity of people of average intelligence to usefully contribute to. It’s the tail of the IQ distribution, several sigma out, that drives progress, that keeps technological society running.

See, this is the part I really don’t buy–that all significant scientific and technological progress comes from people who are several sigma out in some general, prior intellectual knack. I think it’s more likely to come from people who would probably score respectably if not extraordinarily on IQ tests, but, more importantly, have both the drive and opportunity to pursue some deep interest in something specific that just happens to be important.

If you have to have a freakish, one-in-a-million genius brain way out on the tail of the normal distribution in order to accomplish something worthwhile in these fields, then it seems more plausible that small biological differences between human groups, perhaps of a nature currently unknown to science, could completely exclude some groups from the fraternity of relevant geniuses, even if the people on the whole don’t seem particularly dumb.

But most of the successful scientists and technologists I’ve known don’t obviously have freakish genius brains. Instead, they’re fairly smart people who have a passion for what they do, the persistence to keep at it even when it gets difficult or boring, and a certain amount of good fortune as to what endeavor that is. The required degree of smartness is one that is not beyond any human group; but developing the passion requires opportunity and social support.

89

Pablo Stafforini 10.03.07 at 7:19 am

So presumably we are supposed to worry that the supply of people like these might prove inadequate:

http://www.mensa.org/index0.php?page=15

I doubt it.

Kevin, a list of undistinguished Mensa members hardly disproves the claim that “it’s the tail of the IQ distribution, several sigma out, that drives progress.” Mensa, remember, is the organization for highly intelligent people who are nevertheless not quite intelligent enough not to belong to it.

Your point about the IQs of Crick, Watson and Feynman is much more convincing.

90

Katherine 10.03.07 at 10:28 am

Brett has clearly read the excerpt posted above, but then not bothered to read the actual article. Alas, this has allowed him to run away with the idea that the article is refusing to answer the question he so desperately wants answered, when in fact the article says that the question is a bad one in the first place. A classic example of reading what he wants to read, not what is actually written.

91

Brett Bellmore 10.03.07 at 11:30 am

“Alas, this has allowed him to run away with the idea that the article is refusing to answer the question he so desperately wants answered”

I wonder what question you think that is? I must confess I didn’t read much beyond that excerpt, (A bit, though.) but I don’t hold it against Shazali that the essay didn’t answer the burning question, “How can we engineer our post-human future?”

I don’t particularly care if IQ is really correlated with race, with some genetic basis. I merely object to the demand that this topic be placed beyond the pale, just because the possiblity offends the irrational prejudices of liberals, and they want it to not just be wrong, but categorically impossible.

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Harald Korneliussen 10.03.07 at 12:54 pm

Great, Brett Bellmore, great, whatever, just go there and read it, OK?

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novakant 10.03.07 at 1:16 pm

All this talk about a scientific explanation of IQ, let alone it being hereditary, is currently absolute and total bunk.

Why? you ask:

Because in order to scientifically explain IQ and it possibly being hereditary, we need to be able to explain scientifically how the brain works and specifically how higher-order brain functions like language and abstract reasoning work. Any neuroscientist worth taking seriously will tell you quite frankly that we are currently far from being able to do that. The brain is still very much a black box with a few tiny windows in it to us. Pointing at some red areas on a PET scan and correlating them with certain brain activities is not an explanation of how these activities actually work. And even this approach in itself is very limited, since it has been shown that the brain is amazingly adaptive, i.e. if a certain area gets damaged, the same capabilities that were associated with this area are often developed in another area of the brain. Furthermore, we are currently limited to investigating very basic brain functions, such as basic color perception and single concepts – we cannot explain scientifically what actually goes on in building a grammatically correct sentence, let alone understanding a novel, doing a mathematical calculation or writing a symphony. There are various hypothesis which often contradict each other, but what they all have in common is lack of a sound and comprehensive scientific basis and its a good guess that it’ll a very long time to establish one.

A wise neuroscientist not so long ago urged philosophers of mind that they should just shut up for the next 80 years until there was some genuinely interesting scientific data to work with. I urge the hobby sociobiologists here to do the same.

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Katherine 10.03.07 at 2:02 pm

Novakant, I’m not entirely sure who you are addressing, but I’d advise you also to read the article too.

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engels 10.03.07 at 2:15 pm

But Brett when we replace human beings with a race of super-intelligent computers then there’ll be no need for anyone to carry guns anymore, and where’s the fun in that?

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PJ 10.03.07 at 2:34 pm

Brett Bellmore may be a right-wing loon, I don’t know (I have my suspicions). But a lot of the objections to him in these comments seem rather off the mark. Particularly the implication that Shalizi somehow establishes that questions about the heritability of IQ are ill-posed. What Shalizi actually says is:

“So: Do I really believe that the heritability of IQ is zero? Well, I hope by this point I’ve persuaded you that’s not a well-posed question. What I hope you really want to ask is something like: Do I think there are currently any genetic variations which, holding environment fixed to within some reasonable norms for prosperous, democratic, industrial or post-industrial societies, would tend to lead to differences in IQ? There my answer is “yes, of course”…I suspect this answer will still not satisfy some people, who really want to know about differences between people who do not have significant developmental disorders. Here, my honest answer would be that I presently have no evidence one way or the other.”

So he points out that there is a naive question, and a well posed question. The well posed one seems suspiciously similar to this from Brett: “Of course, one can only speak of the heritablity of IQ under certain circumstances, but that doesn’t make heritablity nonsense, it makes it a function of circumstances.”

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novakant 10.03.07 at 3:27 pm

Katherine, having skimmed the article, I do appreciate the cautious tone of the author, but my point is more fundamental, and while it addresses those who claim that we can make some definite statements regarding IQ, intelligence and heredity, it applies to the discussion as a whole:

We are currently talking largely about a black box (the brain), something going in (genes and environmental factors) and something coming out (IQ scores, “intelligence”). I call the brain a black box, because, as I have pointed out above, we currently don’t really know a lot about its inner workings, especially when it comes to higher-order brain functions such as language, mathematical and social skills. We don’t have a scientific basis for explaining phenomena such as memory, consciousness, free will, perception of other minds, thought processes and creativity. Considering the fact that we still know so little about the brain, all such discussions are on the level of pre-scientific medicine, which was based on perceiving an input (a drug, for instance) and an output (patient gets better) without understanding what actually went on inside the body to generate the outcome. Thus all such discussions are highly speculative, mostly unscientific and prone to abuse by parties with ulterior motives.

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engels 10.03.07 at 3:55 pm

I call the brain a black box, because, as I have pointed out above, we currently don’t really know a lot about its inner workings, especially when it comes to higher-order brain functions such as language, mathematical and social skills. We don’t have a scientific basis for explaining phenomena such as memory, consciousness, free will, perception of other minds, thought processes and creativity. Considering the fact that we still know so little about the brain, all such discussions are on the level of pre-scientific medicine

But why is this limited to discussions of IQ? Doesn’t it mean that all experimental psychology is “highly speculative, mostly unscientific and prone to abuse by parties with ulterior motives” and experimental psychologists “should just shut up for the next 80 years”?

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Brett Bellmore 10.03.07 at 4:00 pm

“We don’t have a scientific basis for explaining phenomena such as memory, consciousness, free will, perception of other minds, thought processes and creativity.”

Speaking as a ‘soft’ determinist, I don’t see that we actually need a scientific basis for explaining free will, any more than we need a scientific basis for explaining unicorns. Ditto for perception of other minds; I certainly don’t see any evidence for mental telepathy, for the most part I get by with perceiving other bodies, and infering the existance of other minds. I think we’re starting to make some progress on the other fronts, though.

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SamChevre 10.03.07 at 4:06 pm

Novakant,

What definition of “scientific” are you using? It’s not one I’ve seen before.

Eradicating mosquitoes to control malaria was scientific after the Walter Reed experiments, even though the life-cycle of the malaria germ was not understood, by any meaning of “scientific” I’m familiar with.

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SamChevre 10.03.07 at 4:06 pm

not malaria; yellow fever

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novakant 10.03.07 at 4:29 pm

Doesn’t it mean that all experimental psychology is “highly speculative, mostly unscientific and prone to abuse by parties with ulterior motives” and experimental psychologists “should just shut up for the next 80 years”?

I quoted a prominent neuroscientist (whose name escapes me, I think it was a woman) addressing philosophers of mind and extended that to people making sweeping and largely unfounded claims in general. I didn’t address that to the author in question, whose tone struck me as cautious (but I would still have fundamental methodological objections), and indeed some prominent researchers in the field such as Fodor and Damasio are experimental psychologists or employ their methods. Experimental psychology will be a key area of research in unraveling these problems. It’s only when the results of such experiments are not treated with the necessary caution and used to bolster larger, unfounded claims either by the scientists themselves or, more likely, by philosophers (who by their nature aim for the general) and the general public that I object.

I don’t see that we actually need a scientific basis for explaining free will, any more than we need a scientific basis for explaining unicorns.

Considering the fact that a big part of interaction in our society (e.g. the judicial system) relies on the notion of free will, I think it’s an interesting object of study.

Ditto for perception of other minds

Well, I wasn’t talking about the epistemological problem (which might indeed be a pseudo problem) but rather about the more tangible problem of how we anticipate what others are thinking and how that structures our social behaviour. Autists famously lack (the degree varies) that ability. This lack has very probably a neurological basis and comparing them to people with normal social skills might be an interesting approach to help explain our social behaviour.

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novakant 10.03.07 at 4:41 pm

What definition of “scientific” are you using?

My definition of science: I think you should be more explicit here in step two.

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Brett Bellmore 10.03.07 at 4:48 pm

“Considering the fact that a big part of interaction in our society (e.g. the judicial system) relies on the notion of free will, I think it’s an interesting object of study.”

Well, that just means that a big part of interaction in our society is based on an incoherent concept; To the extent that behavior isn’t determined, it’s random, not “free”.

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novakant 10.03.07 at 5:01 pm

Well, that just means that a big part of interaction in our society is based on an incoherent concept

That might well be, or not, and you’ll find arguments by smart people for either position and anything in between here – but I don’t think we’re going to definitively solve that problem here and now ;)

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loren 10.03.07 at 5:18 pm

novakant: “Pointing at some red areas on a PET scan and correlating them with certain brain activities is not an explanation of how these activities actually work.”

I’ve occasionally thought that it bears a rough but still rather alarming resemblance to phrenology – just prettier pictures and sexier toys (I mean, what self-respecting phrenologist wouldn’t trade those creepy calipers in for funky 3-D rendering of fMRI data?).

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PJ 10.03.07 at 6:29 pm

With the obvious difference that the imaging blobs actually reflect brain activity, unlike the lumps in phrenology which had nothing to do with brain shape.

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kharris 10.03.07 at 6:46 pm

This —

“Do I really believe that the heritability of IQ is zero? Well, I hope by this point I’ve persuaded you that’s not a well-posed question.”

is followed by this –

“…my honest answer would be that I presently have no evidence one way or the other.”

The second quote belies the first. The question isn’t ill-posed. It is a fine question the author cannot answer. If we are not allowed to ask questions not yet answered, we will end up asking very few important questions. We cannot know without effort whether as-yet unanswered questions are answerable.

To further fend us away from asking difficult questions, the author asks why –

“…it is so important to you that IQ be heritable and unchangeable.”

Bad, bad author. One could as easily ask the question from the position of hoping IQ not be heritable and be changeable. One could just as easily as the question in the same way one might ask whether methane can have a non-organic origin – curiousity and hope of understanding. There is no good to be had from insisting, as some commenters have, that one knows “the real question.” There is nothing immoral or stupid is asking about the heritability of intelligence. It is just not the question that the author wants us to ask.

Cheap argumentation reinforced by mild rhetorical bullying. To bad, because a lot of work has gone into the substance of the issue.

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engels 10.03.07 at 6:50 pm

Er, can somebody explain the relevance of MRI scanning to he validity of statistical claims about the heritability of IQ?

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PJ 10.03.07 at 7:01 pm

Something about brains being black boxes – didn’t quite follow it myself.

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novakant 10.03.07 at 7:08 pm

can somebody explain the relevance of MRI scanning to he validity of statistical claims about the heritability of IQ?

sure, it’s one of the current methods of analyzing brain activity, rather limited, but you go to work with what you’ve got

can you explain how you would want to study intelligence and its heredity without analyzing the brain?

it seems to be a rather obvious way to get to the heart of the matter, so I’m a bit puzzled why some seem to think that the brain and our understanding of it is a negligible factor in such a discussion

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engels 10.03.07 at 7:44 pm

can you explain how you would want to study intelligence and its heredity without analyzing the brain?

I’m not sure whether I “want” to do this. But I would imagine it can be done in much the same way that psychologists working in non-physiological branches of experimental psychology study everything else.

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PJ 10.03.07 at 7:55 pm

People seem to have managed to study the heritability of a whole host of phenotypic characteristics without needing to study the underlying physiology of it – eye colour comes to mind.

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engels 10.03.07 at 8:08 pm

(The above isn’t intended as a general endorsement of psychometrics, just pointing out that afaict sounding off about the shortcomings of cognitive neuroscience doesn’t seem to be especially pertinent here, unless one feels that all these things are part of the same vaguely defined scientific conspiracy…)

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novakant 10.03.07 at 9:00 pm

People seem to have managed to study the heritability of a whole host of phenotypic characteristics without needing to study the underlying physiology of it – eye colour comes to mind.

Yes, sure we can mendel away on the simpler traits, like eye or skin color, but these are all:

1.) simple to define
2.) simple to observe
3.) not dynamic i.e. they don’t change much or at all during the lifetime of a subject

While the intelligence/IQ is

1.) hard to define
2.) hard to test and controversial
3.) inherently dynamic
4.) interactive and culturally variable

Do we really know what we’re talking about when we talk about intelligence? If you keep a, for the sake of argument, genetically very intelligent baby locked in a dark room long enough, it will end up stupid. If somebody drives a steel bolt through certain brain regions, you might be lucky and redevelop your respective skills in another part of the brain. Even during a lifetime people can experience changes in their mental faculties due to lack or abundance of stimuli, emotional state, physical health etc. Then you have people who are professors for whatnot and regarded by everybody as intelligent, but have no spatial awareness or mathematical skills at all, so that they wouldn’t do too well on a standard IQ test.

All of this and other things lead me to believe that without a thorough understanding of the brain’s workings, we should not talk about intelligence as if it were an objective or even scientific measure.

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PJ 10.03.07 at 9:21 pm

It is really possible to measure heritability of continuous traits and I don’t think anyone’s talking about ‘intelligence’ as an objective measure – they’re talking about IQ as determined by some test (which bypasses most of your objections).

The rest of your points have been made by Shalizi, and better.

I still don’t see what neuroscience has to do with anything. Could you envisage some finding in neuroscience that could undermine a finding of 100% heritability of some behaviour?

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engels 10.03.07 at 9:30 pm

I’m ok with most of that, Novakant, I think, but it’s a completely different argument from the one you gave before, and which I was objecting to, viz.

I call the brain a black box, because, as I have pointed out above, we currently don’t really know a lot about its inner workings, especially when it comes to higher-order brain functions such as language, mathematical and social skills. We don’t have a scientific basis for explaining phenomena such as memory, consciousness, free will, perception of other minds, thought processes and creativity. Considering the fact that we still know so little about the brain,all such discussions are on the level of pre-scientific medicine… Thus all such discussions are highly speculative, mostly unscientific and prone to abuse by parties with ulterior motives.

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novakant 10.03.07 at 10:16 pm

pj, so say you come to the conclusion that intelligence, as measurable by some test, is x% hereditary and then someone asks you: but why? how does it work? how is the brain shaped by genetics?

without recourse to (future) neuroscience you would only be able to point at the input and the output and their relation, but not be able to explain how it works; to me that wouldn’t be a scientifically very convincing or interesting answer, especially since we’re talking about something as complex as the brain

engels, I don’t see how I’m contradicting myself here, since I am convinced that, while neuroscience is comparatively speaking still in its infancy and its explanatory power is still limited, it will progressively be able to validate, refute and/or substitute the vocabulary of psychology – until then we should regard the concepts of psychology (and philosophy) with caution

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engels 10.03.07 at 11:12 pm

Novakant – You said

talk about a scientific explanation of IQ, let alone it being hereditary, is currently absolute and total bunk

and you followed this with a set of considerations about our lack of understanding of the physiological mechanisms which underly these results which, if they were valid, would apply just as well to almost any current or past research in experimental psychology. So are you claiming that all psychology is “absolute and total bunk”?

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lemuel pitkin 10.04.07 at 12:30 am

Engles-

But there’s a difference, isn’t there, between doing research and claiming we are currently in a position to say anything definite?

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engels 10.04.07 at 12:56 am

Lemuel – Er, yes? The point being?

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Chris 10.04.07 at 1:16 am

Cian at #56, thanks for the crit of my article; but when you say
“Individuals with Down’s syndrome have cognitive weaknesses in certain areas, and develop normally in others…” that is, isn’t it, the debate we’re having here. How, evidentially, can one establish that a behaviorally-observed weakness is a cognitive (and here I assume you mean inherent) weakness and not a social problem?
I also bring in medico-physical issues, but that’s possibly less relevant here.

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Harold 10.04.07 at 3:07 am

It is a wrong question because too narrow.

Even if “IQ” is heritable — even 100 percent heritable — heredity is a dynamic process.

If a high “IQ” really is a trait that is adaptive for the survival of our species (which is quite dubious actually) it will spread very rapidly, both by being manipulated (education, games, culture, sexual selection and the like) even within a few generations, as well as by the circumstance of those who are less adapted dying before puberty or otherwise failing to reproduce themselves (according to the theory of evolution).

It will spread by sexual selection alone, if it is perceived as culturally desirable.

My own hunch is that people who think they have a high “IQ” may have an inflated sense of their own worth. As for our species’ requirement for a hi-tech society in order to survive, along with the nerdy types needed to maintain it — the opposite might be true.

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Dr. Ed 10.04.07 at 3:47 am

The interesting thing about this debate is that it touches on public policy. Perhaps we cannot link intelligence levels with discrete genetic groups with any scientific certainty but we equally cannot unlink them. However the default position, as far as current public policy is often made on just that assumption. Differing levels of achievement are held as a priori evidence of racism.

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PJ 10.04.07 at 10:54 am

“without recourse to (future) neuroscience you would only be able to point at the input and the output and their relation”

Yep, because that is the whole point about the question of heritability.

“but not be able to explain how it works; to me that wouldn’t be a scientifically very convincing or interesting answer”

Why not convincing? If we find it is heritable how could questions of mechanism have any bearing in how convincing that finding is? As for interesting, well horses for courses I guess.

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Matthias 10.05.07 at 12:18 am

The interesting thing about this debate is that it touches on public policy. Perhaps we cannot link intelligence levels with discrete genetic groups with any scientific certainty but we equally cannot unlink them. However the default position, as far as current public policy is often made on just that assumption. Differing levels of achievement are held as a priori evidence of racism.

Do you feel that placing the burden of proof upon racists is a bad thing?

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Brett Bellmore 10.06.07 at 1:50 pm

I dare say there’s a difference between creating a presumption of racism, and placing the burden of proof on racists. You’re affirming the consequent, a classic logic fallacy.

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Harold 10.07.07 at 7:03 am

“Descartes … nowhere integrates his conception of the human mind into a theoretical structure … justifying the fundamental … equality of men in society. Here Hobbes came closer with his path-breaking concept of a general equality in a “state of nature,” an invaluable flexible analytical tool…:

“When all is reckoned together,’ Hobbes affirms … the differences between men in their faculties of mind and body are ‘not so considerable as that one man can thereupon claim to himself any benefit to which another may not pretend as well as he.’ Roughly speaking, men are equal in terms of their power and even more equal in their minds than their bodies. If one is stronger, another may be more cunning, and ‘such is the nature of men,’ observes Hobbes,’that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves.’ This is because we know the detail of our own thoughts, he suggests, but mostly oversimplify the reasoning of others:’but this proveth rather that men are in that point equal, than unequal. ‘From this equality of ability,’ contends Hobbes, ‘ariseth equality of hope in the attaining of our ends.”

–Johathan Israel, Enlightenment Contested, p.552

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