Intelligence and Race

What we know:

The Bell Curve and Charles Murray

Predicting the course of society is chancy, but certain tendencies seem strong enough to worry about:

  • An increasingly isolated cognitive elite.
  • A merging of the cognitive elite with the affluent.
  • A deteriorating quality of life for people at the bottom end of the cognitive distribution.

Unchecked, these trends will lead the U.S. toward something resembling a caste society, with the underclass mired ever more firmly at the bottom and the cognitive elite ever more firmly anchored at the top, restructuring the rules of society so that it becomes harder and harder for them to lose. [p. 509].

It is obvious that these conclusions have not been discredited in the twenty-two years since they were written. They may be more accurately described as prescient.

…cognitive ability as measured by IQ tests is heritable, somewhere in the range of 40% to 80%, and that heritability tends to rise as people get older….
…Herrnstein and I followed the usual estimate of one standard deviation (15 IQ points), but pointed out that the magnitude varied depending on…

In sum: If tomorrow you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the cognitive differences between races were 100 percent genetic in origin, nothing of any significance should change. The knowledge would give you no reason to treat individuals differently than if ethnic differences were 100 percent environmental. By the same token, knowing that the differences are 100 percent environmental in origin would not suggest a single program or policy that is not already being tried. It would justify no optimism about the time it will take to narrow the existing gaps. It would not even justify confidence that genetically based differences will not be upon us within a few generations. The impulse to think that environmental sources of difference are less threatening than genetic ones is natural but illusory.

In any case, you are not going to learn tomorrow that all the cognitive differences between races are 100 percent genetic in origin, because the scientific state of knowledge, unfinished as it is, already gives ample evidence that environment is part of the story. But the evidence eventually may become unequivocal that genes are also part of the story. We are worried that the elite wisdom on this issue, for years almost hysterically in denial about that possibility, will snap too far in the other direction. It is possible to face all the facts on ethnic and race differences on intelligence and not run screaming from the room. That is the essential message [pp. 314-315].

I have been reluctant to spend so much space discussing The Bell Curve’s treatment of race and intelligence because it was such an ancillary topic in the book. Focusing on it in this letter has probably made it sound as if it was as important as President Sands’s open letter implied.

ie. not much.

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