Nature, the publishing group, not the Mother, has taken Darwin’s 200th as an opportunity to play the race card (which always sells copy) and went ahead and published two opposing views on this question: “Should scientists study race and IQ?
The answers are Yes, argued by Stephen Cici and Wendy Williams of the Dept of Human Development at Cornell, and No, argued by Steven Rose, a neuroscientist at Open University.
I would like to weigh in.
The real answer, as is so often the case, is “You dumbass, what kind of question is that? Think about it further and rephrase the question!”
But I don’t think they are going to do that.
I find it very interesting that even though the question does not mention IQ across gender, the details of the ‘debate’ (disguised as ‘rules’) actually specify that the commentators will tackle both race and gender links. Kinda proving that Nature is indeed playing the race card.
I like the idea of addressing both the questions of gender and race in relation to any differences (IQ or whatever). The course that I have taught in many forms in the past, and will likely teach again next Spring, does this. I like to do this because of the very important difference of differences. Gender is, biologically, much much more “real” than race. Gender is demonstrably real (in many aspects) and race is demonstrably not real (in almost all aspects). Also, almost all race differences we see bandied about are linked to nefarious racism one way or another. Gender differences, however, run the full spectrum from really destructive to very positive, with a lot of difficult ambiguity in the in between parts. So, looking at the myriad of purported gender differences first, then race second, turns out to be very very interesting. (One could do it the other way round as well, but for various reasons this works better in the context of my class.)
Let me say a few things about each of these papers first (citations below), then I would like to make a few broader remarks about gender, race, and “IQ.”
Steven Rose does a very good job of explaining all the reasons why the answer to this particular question should be “No” … although I hope he would also agree with me that this is not exactly the question that should be asked. He rightly discusses motivation, noting that we are busy comparing certain “races” by IQ while utterly ignoring equally oft constructed multichotomies of difference.
The categories judged relevant to the study of group differences are clearly unstable, dependent on social, cultural and political context. No one, to my knowledge, is arguing for research on group differences in intelligence between north and south Welsh (although there are well-established average genetic differences between people living in the two regions). This calls into question the motivation behind looking for such specific group differences in intelligence, sheds doubt on whether such research is well-founded, and begs whether answers could possibly be put to good use.
He does not spend enough time on, but does address, the fundamental flaw of the question: If race is not a valid categorization of people, then how do we justify funding scientific research of it? He also notes that while people may bellyache about adjusting IQ scores across ‘racial’ groups, no one seems to complain about nor notice the adjustment of IQ scores between gender, whereby boy’s scores are raised to make them seem equal to girls. Who are smarter, obviously.
The other side of the coin argued by Cici and Williams is the usual drek that should not pass for scientific discourse. Race should be studied because … it is truth. Race should be studied because Stalin tried to stop this kind of thing. Race should be studied because … Larry Summers and James Watson and others have been victimized by the Liberal Left.
I would like to note that the “yes” side is being argued by geneticists. That is pretty typical. Geneticists don’t study intelligence, they study genes and they overrate the value of knowledge of genetics and always have. The “no” side is argued by a neurbiologist. Neurobiologists understand things like culling and plasticity. Do you know what culling is? If not you don’t have a valid opinion about race and IQ. That would be like not knowing what an “Internal Combustion Engine” and a “transmission” are and thinking you have a valid idea of how to fix your car’s drive train. You’d be wrong.
About Gender vs. Race and IQ (or any other trait): Gender is both very real and highly constructed. It is probably often more constructed by context and upbringing than ever race is, but there are real aspects of gender. The vast majority of individuals who are constructed as women cannot inseminate a person with viable sperm in the absence of special technology. The vast majority of individuals who are constructed as men cannot carry and birth a baby at this time. Except in that one movie. This is for a number of biological reasons. The evidence suggests that a certain number of measurable gender differences in behavior between various genders are linked to biological differences and probably have something to do with hormonal conditioning which, in turn, may be mediated in some cases by behavior and cultural or social environment (so even hormonal differences are not entirely independent of constructed context). But there is all sorts of biological stuff going on there. And everything in the above paragraph applies to rats as well as humans.
Of course, you don’t inherit your gender, exactly. Well, OK, there is an ongoing argument that gay-osity is heritable. Maybe or maybe not. The argument seems to gain strength then get shot down again and again, like one of those tings many people need to believe is true but isn’t. If it is true, it is pretty wishy washy and depends a lot on stuff that is in turn hard to pin down. But your basic maleness vs. femaleness with respect to reproductive parts and so on is basically not inherited but is provided genetically, as we all know.
“Race” on the other hand is inherited, but in a very complex way. Since race is a social construct, two elements are needed to produce a certain race. First, there must be a construct extant that responds so some signal (like skin color or language dialect), then there must be a signal produced by a particular genetic variant (like skin color) or, in some cases, just a construct (like language dialect).
Imagine a racist act. Many racist acts occur in a broader social context and can be understood by all the people in that cultural milieu as such. Racists acts often have names or commonly understood index terms associated with them. Most people know at least roughly what the racist act is, how it is done, to whom (which race) it is done and by whom (which race) it is done, etc. That is the socially constructed racist act, and linked to it is a socially constructed race.
Then there are the people. Among the people there will be allelic variation … everybody has the same genes, but the genes themselves have variants … alleles … that result in different phenotypes. So among the people there will be individuals of one socially constructed race and individuals of another socially constructed race, and the defined differences and identities will be an interaction between the alleles and the social constructs.
So if you have a handful of alleles that make you seem to be a Native American, for instance, some professor of higher education may look at you and think “Oh, another one of these guys. Last Native American I had to deal with …. well that didn’t go so well. Let’s get rid of this guy.”
That was the expression of a genetic trait possessed by the victim of a racist act. The genotype was the set of alleles that code for Native Americanosity, and the trait, in its fully expressed glory, was a racist act that emerged from the social context.
The same sorts of things happen with respect to both gender and race. In all cases it is hard to draw lines or make clear links between genotype and phenotypes. It is not so hard to understand the power relationships that usually drive the acts themselves. Even if most people engaged in these gendered and race-driven act are not cognizant of the power relationships, they are usually there.
Research in gene-behavior interaction is important. Research in genetic variation is important. Research based on either a race model (of any kind) or a simple two-step gender model is neither important or valid because such research is based on assumptions that not only cart-before-horse but are also sufficiently discredited to be abandoned. And, I suspect that not too much of this research is actually being funded anyway. A fair amount is published, but I’d love to see the actual link between funding source, proposal, research, and publication. I’d wager there is some disconnect there.
Steven Rose (2009). Darwin 200: Should scientists study race and IQ? NO: Science and society do not benefit Nature, 457 (7231), 786-788 DOI: 10.1038/457786a
Stephen Ceci, Wendy M. Williams (2009). Darwin 200: Should scientists study race and IQ? YES: The scientific truth must be pursued Nature, 457 (7231), 788-789 DOI: 10.1038/457788a