Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability
Posted by Matt Nuenke on Tuesday, May 3, 2005 at 11:01 PM
J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur R. Jensen have collaborated in publishing “Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability” in the APA journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol. 11, No. 2, 235-294. I’m sure the American Psychological Association was not too happy publishing this article, but anything submitted by Jensen (Jensenism) is difficult to refuse. He is considered the leading academic researcher living today on the subject of mental ability along with being the most published and consistently correct in going from theory to providing proof on the inescapable conclusion that intelligence is primarily genetic, and races differ in average intelligence. The article and replies to the article published in the journal are available at:
I will not discuss the article as it is long and detailed, and stands on its own. What I will discuss is Robert J. Sternberg’s reply entitled “There Are No Public-Policy Implications: A Reply to Rushton and Jensen.” Sternberg continues to be one of the most vitriolic antagonists against Jensenism, a person who continues to get his fuzzy ideas about general intelligence published. (See my review of The Scientific Study of General Intelligence: Tribute to Arthur R. Jensen, edited by Helmuth Nyborg, 2003.) His attempted rebuttals are hostile, sophomoric, and show a clear inability to refute the accepted conclusion that the genetic component of average intelligence between races is real and not due to environmental differences.
Sternberg states, “The risk in work such as this [Jensenism] is that public-policy implications may come to be ideologically driven rather than data driven, and to drive the research rather than be driven by the data.” This statement is absurd, because of course, data drives public policy as does ideology drive public policy. Right now, public policy is being driven by the ideology that all differences between races are due to discrimination rather than innate differences. This is a dangerous ideology if it is not true, because it means that inequality between races is the same as it is between people—like individuals human races are different. What he has done in the past, and is doing here, is stating that science simply should not even be discussing racial differences in intelligence, and that only the ideology of the Left should be allowed to pursue research showing that genes don’t matter. This unscientific statement is the position of religious dogma, Marxism, and other anti-scientific ideologies and it is inimical to Western scientific research. Scientists are allowed to study anything that they fancy, and if it is wrong then it is up to others to point out the deficiencies, but never is it allowed to simply sweep whole areas of research under the rug so that no one will ever question alternative hypotheses. All science after all is provisional—it new discovery lays a foundation for newer more complete discoveries.
Sternberg continues, “The quest to show that one socially defined racial, ethnic, or other group is inferior to another in some important way, such that ‘the public must accept the pragmatic reality that some groups will be overrepresented and other groups underrepresented in various socially valued outcomes’ (Rushton & Jensen, 2005, p. 283), has what I believe to be a long, sad history. Since ancient times, cynical political, religious, and other leaders have used such arguments to justify discriminatory ideological positions. Does science want to provide them the ammunition?”
A definition of cynical is “scornful of the motives, virtue, or integrity of others.” By this definition, Sternberg is the living embodiment of cynicism because all he does is scorn the scientists who provide the data. What the politicians do with the facts is not the responsibility of the scientists. In addition, Arthur R. Jensen’s reputation is that of a person with extreme integrity. He has always pursued the scientific facts without prejudice, listening and responding to his detractors without malice. This is not my findings, but statements made by other scientists who respect him but do not agree with him. Stenberg, unlike scientists with integrity, is unable to debate the issue without the use of cynicism himself, because apparently he has no data to refute Jensenism, and that infuriates him (along with the fact that his own triarchic theory of intelligence has gone nowhere as an alternative to g and general intelligence.)
Sternberg claims that “sing tests and scoring them in itself represents a value judgment: Taking a test means different things for diverse groups, and the backgrounds of varied groups who take these tests are different. Studying so-called races represents a value judgment because race is a social construction, not a biological concept, and Rushton and Jensen’s entire article is based on the false premise of race as having meaning other than in their and other people’s imaginations.”
Sternberg finds it offensive that we would actually test people to see how prepared they are to enter school, get a job, get a promotion, because apparently that has no meaning because—well because—what if a newly arrived aborigine from Australia wanted to take a test to become a fireman! He has no understanding of tall buildings and extension ladders! This is an absurd charge, and one that could equally be used against the thousands of tests prepared and given to different groups by social scientists to show how rampant racism is in society. These tests are usually so biased that they only show how racist Whites are against minorities, without ever creating unbiased tests that show how racist a race is towards any other race (that is, an unbiased test that shows innate xenophobia or ethnocentrism). Yes, psychometricians like social scientists give tests to people, and psychometricians well understand to consider cultural differences when giving tests to different groups.
The race is a social construction argument is the gasping breath defense when the naïve environmentalists have nothing more to offer in their defense. They have no data so they will merely eliminate the concept of race. This is at the same time that National Geographic begins its world-wide DNA sampling of races to determine the migration routes of humans over the last 100,000 years, which is the very definition of race—a persons genetic lineage.
Sternberg continues: “Deciding to study group differences represents a value judgment—that the problem is worth studying. Deciding to show that one group is genetically inferior on an index is a value judgment as to what is worth showing. These decisions, among others, indicate that there is no value-free science.” Sternberg uses the term “inferior” numerous times in his rebuttal, and yet the word is not used in the article by Jensen and Rushton. Alfred Binet developed the first intelligence test over 100 years ago to determine if children had developmental problems that would keep them from learning. Was Binet looking for inferior children? That is what Sternberg is insinuating. Could it also now be just as relevant to find out if certain races have more or less difficulty learning in some areas rather than others? It has been observed that East Asians excel in performance or visual-spatial intelligence over verbal intelligence. Is this done to show that they are inferior or to see how different races perform on various mental tasks? Sternberg makes accusations again about integrity where none is warranted.
I do agree that there is no “value-free” science, if he means by that that scientists have individual values, worldviews, etc. But that is the beauty of science, no matter what the worldview of a scientist is, no matter how much of a whack-job they might be, scientific data stands on its own. Science factors out personal bias because for every scientist that is trying to prove their theory or hypothesis, there are numerous other scientists trying to knock it down. It is much safer to disprove another researchers data than it is to produce solid evidence on one’s own. That is why science is self-correcting and continues to advance, as long as it is not shackled by people like Sternberg who attacks the person rather than the facts.
Sternberg states, “Rushton and Jensen make what I believe to be ambiguous references—for example, speaking of biological inequality without defining this term. I also believe they inadvertently create ‘straw men.’ These straw men take the form of false dichotomies, such as between the culture-only model and the hereditarian model (as though there is nothing in between), and imaginary oppositions, such as between people who believe in the influence of genetics and people who engage in ‘denial of any genetic component in human variation.’ There are probably no such people, at least among serious scientists. What scientist, for example, believes that height or weight is entirely environmental?”
It is interesting that Sternberg accuses Rushton and Jensen of not defining “biological inequality” when they never use that term. Why should they have to define a term that they do not use? An even more desperate allegation is that they have created “straw men” that Sternberg then claims no one believes in anyway. If no one in science believes in naïve environmentalism, then why do they continue to produce research that ignores “any” contribution from a person’s genetic make up? To make my point, when has anyone, anywhere, read about President Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, that included considerations about racial differences in cognitive ability from genes? Never! Jensen and Rushton are clearly correct in pointing out that though many disciplines in principle do not exclude genetic contributions, they do omit any genetic component in their research assumptions. That is clearly what Rushton and Jensen are objecting to—bias in research by omission.
Let’s return to the “straw men” argument. That has been the tactic of the race deniers over the last decade or so, and it goes like this: “there are no distinct races, therefore races do not exist!” Correct, but then no one has claimed that races are distinct entities, so the race deniers have set up a “straw men” argument to knock over—though the criteria of distinct races is not used by scientists. Races, as describe by Jensen, are arbitrary collections of peoples based on their genetic lineage—that is it. Clean, simple and to the point.
Sternberg then whines, “As was true of Herrnstein and Murray (1994) and their predecessors, the science risks being used to promote social engineering unsupported by the data. In my response, because of space restrictions, I limit my response to their public-policy claims.” Talk about slipping and sliding. Sternberg, if he was interested in science rather than his ideology, would attack their data if it is flawed. The problem is, the data is substantial and expanding on the side of “genes matter” in everything from intelligence, to crime to medical treatment. This genetic juggernaut is driving the Left crazy, and Sternberg is admitting here that the data is sound but the motives are insidious. Who cares? Science operates on firm data, not on motives why the data was collected—and he knows it.
Sternberg: “First, as Rushton and Jensen realize, these correlations, like heritability coefficients, are all obtained under a given social system. Heritabilities of intelligence differ widely even across social classes. Moreover, in a social system that has no welfare, IQ is not correlated with going on welfare. In a social system in which the state ensures that no one lives in poverty, IQ is not correlated with living in poverty. Is divorce heritable? In a system that does not allow divorce, IQ is not correlated with divorce within the first 5 years of marriage. And in a system that does not allow discrimination, who knows what the heritability of intelligence would be?”
Well, I guess we see Sternberg’s agenda: we can’t know anything about anybody until “discrimination” is ended. But how do we know that inequality is caused by discrimination, class, intelligence, or just dumb luck if we are not allowed to explore the different possibilities? And that is where Sternberg is amiss; he does not want science to even question a genetic component to human differences in intelligence or behavioral traits. However, knowing how humans behave, given all of the unique cultural variations he mentions above, does not eliminate the need to understand how and why humans behave as they do.
Sternberg continues, “Many individuals—disproportionately, members of certain minority groups and those in developing countries—grow up in miserable circumstances from which there is no ready exit. Their home life may be bad; their schools may be bad; their economic situation may be bad. It is extremely difficult to escape from these environments because they are members of a socially defined lower caste for which the opportunities for advancement are meager.”
This is more applicable perhaps in some countries like India, where acceptance of the caste systems keeps some groups oppressed. The United States however gives preferences to minorities; they are not deprived by society but are given enormous opportunities based on race to succeed. As research has shown, the low intelligence of Blacks occurs prior to entering school or for that matter interacting with society as a whole. If there is some environmental cause for their low average intelligence, this falls on the shoulders of the child’s own parents and/or their culture. No one else can be blamed. Sternberg will simply not address the research provided, but just keeps repeating the same old stale excuses that have systematically all been addressed by current scientific research. There is nowhere else to hide except personal attacks on the messenger, because the message is so clear and so well supported.
Sternberg laments, “Even when African American students live in affluence, some of their prevailing cultural attitudes may prevent them from achieving at the levels of which they are capable. Such attitudes may affect their ability test scores as well as their achievement test scores, because existing ability tests, including tests of nonverbal abilities, all measure achievement, to a greater or lesser extent.” True, but their “cultural attitudes” may be genetic as well as their innate intelligence. What if on top of a low level of innate intelligence, African Americans also have on average a low level of conscientiousness as a behavioral trait, and preferring sports over intellectual engagement, also something that can be a combination of culture and genetics. Is this a reason to ignore genetics or to do further research to find out if there is a genetic component to “striving to achieve” along with an “ability to achieve.” This is the very dichotomy he claims Rushton and Jensen are making into “straw men,” and yet that is exactly what he is calling for—a denial of any genetic causation in low African American achievement.
And then more absurdities: “Not all the correlates of higher IQ are socially desirable, although Rushton and Jensen (2005) only mention the socially desirable ones. To be fair, we probably ought to list selected undesirable correlates of higher IQ: for example, being able to design and fabricate sophisticated bombs, the capacity to successfully manufacture weaponized anthrax and other biological agents, and planning terrorists attacks without getting caught. In these cases, higher IQ may be correlated with socially devalued outcomes. Arguably, these outcomes do more social harm than divorce (associated, according to Rushton and Jensen, with low IQ).”
We could also prevent terrorist attacks and creation of weapons by just blinding everyone, but I don’t think this would be a better world in the end. In Africa, this new sightless society would still be butchering each other with machetes of course rather than WMDs. In addition, the low IQ of sub-Saharan Africans is responsible for starvation, the spread of diseases like AIDS, the returning of polio because they will not use vaccinations, etc. The high intellect of the Western nations has been responsible for longer life, better health, the elimination of disease, protection of the environment, human rights policies that are globally advocated, etc., etc. Does anyone believe, truly, that this would be a better world if the average intelligence of all of its citizens went from 100 to 70? That is the average IQ of sub-Saharan Africans, and it is a place people are fleeing from, not emigrating to.
Sternberg, like Howard Gardner, has been attacking the high heritability of intelligence from the inside—that is by offering up alternatives rather than attacking it directly. Gardner uses multiple intelligences where he claims everyone is good at something, but he has never done any research nor does he claim he needs to. Sternberg takes a slightly different approach, and claims that there are intelligences that are hidden and hard to measure. The purpose of this approach is to attack all tests, claiming they are insufficient at measuring a person’s cognitive ability. So he states, “As these [above] examples illustrate, a problem with our society is its emphasis on intelligence and its corresponding lack of emphasis on wisdom. Unfortunately, it is our foolishness that is likely to destroy our society, not our lack of IQ.”
It seems evident to me, and I would think to most people, that “wisdom” is obtained by having a high intelligence; a desire to understand and learn what is “true, right or lasting.” Wisdom requires intelligence. Foolishness, that is “lacking or exhibiting a lack of good sense or judgment,” is just the flip side of wisdom. Not acting foolish requires intelligence, but is not sufficient to keep even intelligent people from acting foolishly. Sternberg again just tries to mix personality traits and experience with intelligence, trying to convince everyone that we should not even study intelligence. I also doubt Sternberg has made much progress and teasing out ways to determine who is foolish and who has wisdom, and how to create environments where one will flourish and the other parish from out midst.
He continues, “IQ is one attribute that, in our society, is correlated with success. In many other societies, IQ probably matters as well, although not to the same extent. 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. In a warrior society, IQ will still matter, but physical prowess may be equally necessary to stay alive. In a totalitarian society, a high IQ may be the kiss of death. During the reigns of Stalin and Pol Pot, among other such reigns, intellectuals were the first to be shot.” He fails to mention that since Ashkenazi Jews have been breeding for high verbal intelligence for 2,000 years, they were also routinely persecuted and killed by those who were jealous of their success (MacDonald, 1994, 2002). Yet, I have never heard a member of that race arguing that they should alter their breeding habits because their high intelligence was the primary reason for the Holocaust! Hitler feared the power of the Jews, and he also thought intelligence tests were a Jewish plot because Jews outperformed the average German.
Again Sternberg, “Their argument incorrectly implies that IQ is the only cause of success. Members of other socially defined racial or ethnic groups might be superior in other attributes correlated with success but still not attain the success of the majority because they find their success blocked by discrimination.” This logic is almost incomprehensible. He seems to be making two contradictory statements; minorities are successful and then again minorities are not successful because of “discrimination.” Well, the only way we will know is to do research on all of the possibilities, not shun one path for an exclusive right to assume only discrimination is the cause.
Sternberg then argues that since height or stature (which is 90% heritable) can be so easily increased by better nutrition, people now score better on intelligence tests because people are more educated and are more familiar with tests, that there is hope of increasing intelligence even further through enrichment programs. What he fails to mention is that the enrichment programs like Head Start have been failures for African Americans (strangely they do have a positive outcome for Whites with regards to lasting intelligence). He even mentions that “Jaime Escalante also apparently had great success” in increasing performance. Well, Escalante was discussed in the book No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, and the authors provide great praise for his program, but tellingly no data on improving the intelligence of Blacks. Besides, if enrichment programs, new drugs or other enhancements can raise overall intelligence, it will only drive all intelligences higher and perhaps actually widen the present Jewish–East Asians–Whites–Hispanics–Black gaps in intelligence. This will not achieve what Sternberg wants, perfect equality in average intelligence between differing races (except his own perhaps).
Finally, “The quality of science is determined not only by the quality of problem solving but also by taste in the selection of problems to solve. Readers will have to decide for themselves whether the problem addressed in Rushton and Jensen’s article represents good taste in the selection of the problems. Would that Rushton and Jensen had devoted their penetrating intellects to other more scientifically and socially productive problems!”
General intelligence has had over 100 years of penetrating investigation by scientists, for the simple reason that the high intelligence of humans defines our species’ very essence. Sternberg belies his own admonitions against research in intelligence because he has proceeded with his own triarchic theory which is in many ways similar to others except he tries to muddle the concept where testing becomes impossible. Since his own research is of such poor “quality,” he now has redefined science as a pursuit where one must have also good taste—perhaps that means one must be an intolerant egalitarian—a true blue naïve environmentalist. Sternberg is a latter day Gould—he will lie, distort, makeup implausible scenarios, confabulate circular facts—to push his ideological agenda. Since he has no hard data refuting Rushton and Jensen’s summation of the facts as they stand today, he had no choice but to attack the motives of the researchers. In science, that is very bad taste.