zzzskizzzThat's true if you score high on an IQ test, if you come from a very poor background with very horrible public-school education. You obviously won't score as high someone who comes rich family with better education. There are also many different forms of intelligence, and iq just tests for one. so to just take the entire white race and put it against the entire black race or any other race or gender is ridiculous. Take two people with the same schooling, education and backround then see how big the gap is.
Race, Genes And Intelligence
By William Saletan
"Among white Americans, the average IQ, as of a decade or so ago, was 103. Among Asian-Americans, it was 106. Among Jewish Americans, it was 113. Among Latino Americans, it was 89. Among African-Americans, it was 85. Around the world, studies find the same general pattern: whites 100, East Asians 106, sub-Sarahan Africans 70. One IQ table shows 113 in Hong Kong, 110 in Japan, and 100 in Britain. White populations in Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States score closer to one another than to the worldwide black average. It's been that way for at least a century."
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"
- Declaration of Independence
Last month, James Watson, the legendary biologist, was condemned and forced into retirement after claiming that African intelligence wasn't "the same as ours." "Racist, vicious and unsupported by science," said the Federation of American Scientists. " Utterly unsupported by scientific evidence," declared the U.S. government's supervisor of genetic research. The New York Times told readers that when Watson implied "that black Africans are less intelligent than whites, he hadn't a scientific leg to stand on."
I wish these assurances were true. They aren't. Tests do show an IQ deficit, not just for Africans relative to Europeans, but for Europeans relative to Asians. Economic and cultural theories have failed to explain most of the pattern, and there's strong preliminary evidence that part of it is genetic. It's time to prepare for the possibility that equality of intelligence, in the sense of racial averages on tests, will turn out not to be true.
If this suggestion makes you angry-if you find the idea of genetic racial advantages outrageous, socially corrosive, and unthinkable-you're not the first to feel that way. Many Christians are going through a similar struggle over evolution. Their faith in human dignity rests on a literal belief in Genesis. To them, evolution isn't just another fact; it's a threat to their whole value system. As William Jennings Bryan put it during the Scopes trial, evolution meant elevating "supposedly superior intellects," "eliminating the weak," "paralyzing the hope of reform," jeopardizing "the doctrine of brotherhood," and undermining "the sympathetic activities of a civilized society."
The same values-equality, hope, and brotherhood-are under scientific threat today. But this time, the threat is racial genetics, and the people struggling with it are liberals.
Evolution forced Christians to bend or break. They could insist on the Bible's literal truth and deny the facts, as Bryan did. Or they could seek a subtler account of creation and human dignity. Today, the dilemma is yours. You can try to reconcile evidence of racial differences with a more sophisticated understanding of equality and opportunity. Or you can fight the evidence and hope it doesn't break your faith.
I'm for reconciliation. Later this week, I'll make that case. But if you choose to fight the evidence, here's what you're up against. Among white Americans, the average IQ, as of a decade or so ago, was 103. Among Asian-Americans, it was 106. Among Jewish Americans, it was 113. Among Latino Americans, it was 89. Among African-Americans, it was 85. Around the world, studies find the same general pattern: whites 100, East Asians 106, sub-Sarahan Africans 70. One IQ table shows 113 in Hong Kong, 110 in Japan, and 100 in Britain. White populations in Australia, Canada, Europe, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States score closer to one another than to the worldwide black average. It's been that way for at least a century.
Remember, these are averages, and all groups overlap. You can't deduce an individual's intelligence from her ethnicity. The only thing you can reasonably infer is that anyone who presumes to rate your IQ based on the color of your skin is probably dumber than you are.
So, what should we make of the difference in averages?
We don't like to think IQ is mostly inherited. But we've all known families who are smarter than others. Twin and sibling studies, which can sort genetic from environmental factors, suggest more than half the variation in IQ scores is genetic. A task force report from the American Psychological Association indicates it might be even higher. The report doesn't conclude that genes explain racial gaps in IQ. But the tests on which racial gaps are biggest happen to be the tests on which genes, as measured by comparative sibling performance, exert the biggest influence.
How could genes cause an IQ advantage? The simplest pathway is head size. I thought head measurement had been discredited as Eurocentric pseudoscience. I was wrong. In fact, it's been bolstered by MRI. On average, Asian-American kids have bigger brains than white American kids, who in turn have bigger brains than black American kids. This is true even though the order of body size and weight runs in the other direction. The pattern holds true throughout the world and persists at death, as measured by brain weight.
According to twin studies, 50 percent to 90 percent of variation in head size and brain volume is genetic. And when it comes to IQ, size matters. The old science of head measurements found a 20 percent correlation of head size with IQ. The new science of MRI finds at least a 40 percent correlation of brain size with IQ. One analysis calculates that brain size could easily account for five points of the black-white IQ gap.
I know, it sounds crazy. But if you approach the data from other directions, you get the same results. The more black and white scores differ on a test, the more performance on that test correlates with head size and "g," a measure of the test's emphasis on general intelligence. You can debate the reality of g, but you can't debate the reality of head size. And when you compare black and white kids who score the same on IQ tests, their average difference in head circumference is zero.
Scientists have already identified genes that influence brain size and vary by continent. Whether these play a role in racial IQ gaps, nobody knows. But we should welcome this research, because any genetic hypothesis about intelligence ought to be clarified and tested.
Critics think IQ tests are relative-i.e., they measure fitness for success in our society, not in other societies. "In a hunter-gatherer society, IQ will still be important, but if a hunter cannot shoot straight, IQ will not bring food to the table," argues psychologist Robert Sternberg. "In a warrior society physical prowess may be equally necessary to stay alive." It's a good point, but it bolsters the case for a genetic theory. Nature isn't stupid. If Africans, Asians, and Europeans evolved different genes, the reason is that their respective genes were suited to their respective environments.
In fact, there's a mountain of evidence that differential evolution has left each population with a balance of traits that could be advantageous or disadvantageous, depending on circumstances. The list of differences is long and intricate. On average, compared with whites, blacks mature more quickly in the womb, are born earlier, and develop teeth, strength, and dexterity earlier. They sit, crawl, walk, and dress themselves earlier. They reach sexual maturity faster, and they have better eyesight. On each of these measures, East Asians lag whites and blacks. In exchange, East Asians get longer lives and bigger brains.
How this happened isn't clear. Everyone agrees that the three populations separated 40,000 to 100,000 years ago. Even critics of racial IQ genetics accept the idea that through natural selection, environmental differences may have caused abilities such as distance running to become more common in some populations than in others. Possibly, genes for cognitive complexity became so crucial in some places that nature favored them over genes for developmental speed and vision. If so, fitness for today's world is mostly dumb luck. If we lived in a savannah, kids programmed to mature slowly and grow big brains would be toast. Instead, we live in a world of zoos, supermarkets, pediatricians, pharmaceuticals, and information technology. Genetic advantages, in other words, are culturally created.
Not that that's much consolation if you're stuck in the 21st century with a low IQ. Tomorrow we'll look at some of the arguments against the genetic theory.
Yesterday,we looked at evidence for a genetic theory of racial differences in IQ. Today let's look at some of the arguments against it. Again, I'm drawing heavily on a recent exchange of papers published by the American Psychological Association.
One objection is that IQ tests are racially biased. This is true in the broadest sense: On average, African and Asian kids have different advantages, and IQ tests focus on the things at which more Asian kids have the edge. But in the narrower sense of testing abilities that pay off in the modern world, IQ tests do their job. They accurately predict the outcomes of black and white kids at finishing high school, staying employed, and avoiding poverty, welfare, or jail. They also accurately predict grades and job performance in modern Africa. The SAT, GRE, and tests in the private sector and the armed forces corroborate the racial patterns on IQ tests. Kids of different backgrounds find the same questions easy or hard. Nor do tests always favor a country's ethnic majority. In Malaysia, Chinese and Indian minorities outscore Malays.
If the tests aren't racist, some critics argue, then society is. That's true, in the sense that racism persists. But that alone can't account for the patterns in IQ scores. Why do blacks in the white-dominated United States score 15 points higher than blacks in black-dominated African countries, including countries that have been free of colonial rule for half a century? And why do Asian-Americans outscore white Americans?
Another common critique is that race is a fuzzy concept. By various estimates, 20 percent to 30 percent of the genes in "black" Americans actually came from Europe. Again, it's a good point, but it bolsters the case for a genetic explanation. Black Americans, like "colored" South Africans, score halfway between South African blacks and whites on IQ tests. The lowest black IQ averages in the United States show up in the South, where the rate of genetic blending is lowest. There's even some biological evidence: a correlation between racial "admixture" and brain weight. Reading about studies of "admixture" is pretty nauseating. But the nausea doesn't make the studies go away.
My first reaction, looking at this pattern, was that if the highest-scoring blacks are those who have lighter skin or live in whiter countries, the reason must be their high socioeconomic status relative to other blacks. But then you have to explain why, on the SAT, white kids from households with annual incomes of $20,000 to $30,000 easily outscore black kids from households with annual incomes of $80,000 to $100,000. You also have to explain why, on IQ tests, white kids of parents with low incomes -and low IQs outscore black kids of parents with high incomes and high IQs. Or why Inuits and Native Americans outscore American blacks.
The current favorite alternative to a genetic explanation is that black kids grow up in a less intellectually supportive culture. This is a testament to how far the race discussion has shifted to the right. Twenty years ago, conservatives were blaming culture, while liberals blamed racism and poverty. Now liberals are blaming culture because the emerging alternative, genetics, is even more repellent.
The best way to assess the effects of culture and socioeconomic status is to look at trans-racial adoptions, which combine one race's genes with another's environment. Among Asian-American kids, biological norms seem to prevail. In one study, kids adopted from Southeast Asia, half of whom had been hospitalized for malnutrition, outscored the U.S. IQ average by 20 points. In another study, kids adopted from Korea outscored the U.S. average by two to 12 points, depending on their degree of malnutrition. In a third study, Korean kids adopted in Belgium outscored the Belgian average by at least 10 points, regardless of their adoptive parents' socioeconomic status.
Studies of African-American kids are less clear. One looked at children adopted into white upper-middle class families in Minnesota. The new environment apparently helped: On average, the kids exceeded the IQ norms for their respective populations. However, it didn't wipe out racial differences. Adopted kids with two white biological parents slightly outscored kids with one black biological parent, who in turn significantly outscored kids with two black biological parents. The most plausible environmental explanation for this discrepancy is that the half-black kids (in terms of their number of black biological parents) were treated better than the all-black kids. But the study shot down that theory. Twelve of the half-black kids were mistakenly thought by their adoptive parents to be all-black. That made no difference. They scored as well as the other half-black kids.
In Germany, a study of kids fathered by foreign soldiers and raised by German women found that kids with white biological dads scored the same as kids with biological dads of "African" origin. Hereditarians (scholars who advocate genetic explanations) complain that the sample was skewed because at least 20 percent of the "African" dads were white North Africans. I find that complaint pretty interesting, since it implies that North Africans are a lot smarter than other "whites." Their better critique is that the pool of blacks in the U.S. military had already been filtered by IQ tests. Even environmentalists (scholars who advocate nongenetic explanations) concede that this filter radically distorted the numbers. But again, the complaint teaches a lesson: In any nonrandom pool of people, you can't deduce even average IQ from race.
Other studies lend support to both sides. In one study, half-black kids scored halfway between white and black kids, but kids with white moms and black dads (biologically speaking) scored nine points higher than kids with black moms and white dads. In another study, black kids adopted into white middle-class families scored 13 points higher than black kids adopted into black middle-class families, and both groups outscored the white average.
Each camp points out flaws in the other's studies, and the debate is far from over. But when you boil down the studies, they suggest three patterns. One, better environments produce better results. Two, moms appear to make a difference, environmentally and biologically. (Their biological influence could be hormonal or nutritional rather than genetic.) Three, underneath those factors, a racial gap persists. One problem with most of the adoption studies is that as a general rule, genetic differences in IQ tend to firm up in adolescence. And in the only study that persisted to that point (the one in Minnesota), kids scored on average according to how many of their biological parents were black.
The best argument against genetics isn't in these studies. It's in data that show shrinkage of the black-white IQ gap over time. From these trends, environmentalists conclude that the gap is closing to zero. Hereditarians read the data differently. They agree that the gap closed fractionally in the middle decades of the 20th century, but they argue that scores in the last two to three decades show no improvement.
I've been soaking my head in each side's computations and arguments. They're incredibly technical. Basically, the debate over the IQ surge is a lot like the debate over the Iraq troop surge, except that the sides are reversed. Here, it's the liberals who are betting on the surge, while the conservatives dismiss it as illogical and doomed. On the one hand, the IQ surge is hugely exciting. If it closes the gap to zero, it moots all the putative evidence of genetic barriers to equality. On the other hand, the case for it is as fragile as the case for the Iraq surge. You hope it pans out, but you can't see why it would, given that none of the complicating factors implied by previous data has been adequately explained or taken into account. Furthermore, to construe meaningful closure of the IQ gap in the last 20 years, you have to do a lot of cherry-picking, inference, and projection. I have a hard time explaining why I should go along with those tactics when it comes to IQ but not when it comes to Iraq.
When I look at all the data, studies, and arguments, I see a prima facie case for partial genetic influence. I don't see conclusive evidence either way in the adoption studies. I don't see closure of the racial IQ gap to single digits. And I see too much data that can't be reconciled with the surge or explained by current environmental theories. I hope the surge surprises me. But in case it doesn't, I want to start thinking about how to be an egalitarian in an age of genetic difference, even between races. More on that tomorrow.
Why write about this topic? Why hurt people's feelings? Why gratify bigots?
Because truth matters. Because the truth isn't as bad as our ignorant, half-formed fears and suspicions about it. And because you can't solve a problem till you understand it.
Two days ago, I said we could fight the evidence of racial differences in IQ, or we could accept it. Yesterday, I outlined the difficulty of fighting it. What happens if we accept it? Can we still believe in equality?
Let's look past our fears and caricatures and see what the evidence actually teaches us.
1. Individual IQ can't be predicted from race. According to the data , at least 15 percent to 20 percent of black Americans exceed the average IQ of white Americans. If you think it's safe to guess that a white job applicant is smarter than a black one, consider this: The most important job in the world is president of the United States. Over the last seven years, the most important judgment relevant to that job was whether to authorize, endorse, or oppose the use of force in Iraq. Among the dozen viable candidates who have applied for the job, one is black. Guess which one got it right?
2. Subgroup IQ can't be predicted from race. Go back and look at the German study I mentioned yesterday. Kids fathered by black soldiers scored the same as kids fathered by white soldiers. The explanation offered by hereditarians was that blacks in the military were screened for IQ, thereby wiping out the racial IQ gap.
Think about that explanation. It undermines the claim, attributed to James Watson by the Times of London, that " people who have to deal with black employees" find equality untrue. (The Times purports to have Watson's interview on tape but hasn't published the whole quote or responded to requests for it.) If employment screens out lower IQs, you can't infer squat about black employees. And that isn't the only confounding factor. Every time a study highlights some group of blacks who score well, hereditarians argue that the sample isn't random. That may be true, but it's also true of the people you live next to, work with, and meet on the street. Every black person in your office could have an IQ over 120.
3. Whitey does not come out on top. If you came here looking for material for your Aryan supremacy Web site, sorry. Stratifying the world by racial IQ will leave your volk in the dust. You might want to think about marrying a nice Jewish girl from Hong Kong. Or maybe reconsider that whole stratification idea.
4. Racism is elitism minus information. No matter how crude race is as a proxy for intelligence, some people will use it that way, simply because they can see your skin but not your brain. What if we cut out the middleman? What if, instead of keeping individual IQs secret, we made them more transparent? If you don't accept IQ, pick some other measure of intelligence. You may hate labeling or "tracking" kids by test scores, but it's better than covering up what's inside their heads and leaving them to be judged, ignorantly, by what's on the surface.
5. Intermarriage is closing the gap. To the extent that IQ differences are genetic, the surest way to eliminate them is to reunite the human genome. This is already happening, including in my own family. In 1970, 1 percent of U.S. marriages were between blacks and nonblacks. By 1990, it was 4.5 percent. It may be the best punch line of the IQ debate: The more genetic the racial gap is, the faster we can obliterate it.
6. Environment matters. Genetic and environmental theories aren't mutually exclusive. Hereditarians admit that by their own reading of the data, nongenetic factors account for 20 percent to 50 percent of IQ variation. They think malnutrition, disease, and educational deprivation account for a big portion of the 30-point IQ gap between whites and black Africans. They think alleviation of these factors in the United States has helped us halve the deficit. Transracial adoption studies validate this. Korean adoption studies suggest a malnutrition effect of perhaps 10 IQ points. And everyone agrees that the black-white IQ gap closed significantly during the 20th century, which can't have been due to genes.
7. IQ is like wealth. Many people who used to condemn differences in wealth have learned to accept them. Instead of demanding parity, they focus on elevating everyone to an acceptable standard of living. Why not treat IQ the same way? This seems particularly reasonable if we accept IQ in the role for which science has certified it: not as a measure of human worth, but as a predictor of modern social and economic success.
As it turns out, raising the lowest IQs is a lot easier than equalizing higher IQs, because you can do it through nutrition, medicine, and basic schooling. As these factors improve, IQs have risen. If racial differences persist, is that really so awful? Conversely, if we can raise the lowest IQs, isn't that enough to justify the effort? One of the strangest passages in IQ scholarship is a recent attempt by hereditarians to minimize their own mediated-learning study because, while it "did raise the IQ of the African students from 83 to 97, this is still low for students at a leading university." You've got to be kidding. Screw the other universities. Going from 83 to 97 is a screaming success.
8. Life is more than g. Every time black scores improve on a test, hereditarians complain that the improvement is on "subject-specific knowledge," not on g (general intelligence). But the more you read about progress in things other than g, the more you wonder: Does g expose the limits of the progress? Or does the progress expose the limits of g?
If the progress were on g, the test-takers' lives would be easier, since g helps you apply what you've learned to new contexts. But that doesn't make other kinds of progress meaningless. People with low IQs can learn subject by subject. And they may have compensating advantages. One of my favorite disputes in the IQ literature is about test scores in Africa. Environmentalists argued that African kids lacked motivation. Hereditarians replied that according to their own observations, African kids stayed longer to check their answers than white kids did. Diligence, too, is a transferable asset.
9. Children are more than an investment. All the evidence on race and IQ says black kids do better at younger ages, particularly with help from intervention programs. Later, the benefits fade. Hereditarians say this is genetics taking over, as happens with IQ generally. Suppose that's true. We don't abandon kids who are statistically likely to get fatal genetic diseases in their teens or 20s. Why write off kids whose IQ gains may not last? The economics may not pay off, but what about human rights?
10. Genes can be changed. Hereditarians point to phenylketunuria as an example of a genetic but treatable cognitive defect. Change the baby's diet, and you protect its brain. They also tout breast-feeding as an environmental intervention. White women are three times more likely than black women to breast-feed their babies, they observe, so if more black women did it, IQs might go up. But now it turns out that breast-feeding, too, is a genetically regulated factor. As my colleague Emily Bazelon explains, a new study shows that while most babies gain an average of seven IQ points from breast-feeding, some babies gain nothing from it and end up at a four-point disadvantage because they lack a crucial gene.
The study's authors claim it "shows that genes may work via the environment to shape the IQ, helping to close the nature versus nurture debate." That's true if you have the gene. But if you don't, nurture can't help you. And guess what? According to the International Hapmap Project, 2.2 percent of the project's Chinese-Japanese population samples, 5 percent of its European-American samples, and 10 percent of its Nigerian samples lack the gene. The Africans are twice as likely as the Americans, and four times as likely as the Asians, to start life with a four-point IQ deficit out of sheer genetic misfortune.
Don't tell me those Nigerian babies aren't cognitively disadvantaged. Don't tell me it isn't genetic. Don't tell me it's God's will. And in the age of genetic modification, don't tell me we can't do anything about it.
No, we are not created equal. But we are endowed by our Creator with the ideal of equality, and the intelligence to finish the job.
William Saletan is Slate's national correspondent and author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War.
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