John Derbyshire: wrong even 176 years ago

Update:  Added a couple sentences to clarify that I’m not attacking psychology or psychometrics, but rather the simple-minded attempts distort these fields to justify racism.  Also revised my statements about Derbyshire’s particular claims, to be more explicit about the flaws in his “intelligence = IQ” argument.

Pretty much the entire internet is outraged, rightly, at a recent post by the odious National Review columnist John Derbyshire, who a few days ago penned a remarkably racist screed in Taki’s Magazine titled “The Talk: Nonblack version”.

Some background: in the aftermath of the truly appalling and unjustified murder of Trayvon Martin, a young black man,  many black parents have revived “The Talk“.  A practice that goes back to the Civil War era, “The Talk” might be summarized as explaining to a black man that: “At any time, I could encounter a stranger who believes he knows me, knows my character, and my motives, based on my appearance alone”.  It is a sad reminder that African-Americans must take extra care in their interactions with others, especially armed authority figures.

This idea set off Derbyshire, who came up with the “Nonblack version” of “The Talk”, which includes such blatantly racist nuggets as:

(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).

There’s plenty to be said about such idiocy, but what really concerns me is the following:

(11) The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black. These differences show in every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday situations. “Life is an IQ test.”

There it is: Derbyshire really thinks that black people are simply dumber than white people.

Plenty of folks are shredding Derbyshire’s idiocy: for instance, see Angry Black Lady’s post on Raw Story savaging him.  But I want to take another tack here, and point out that the sort of pseudoscientific tripe that he’s peddling about black intelligence has been around, and criticized, for a long, long, long time.  To demonstrate this, I want to take a look at a paper that was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London way back in eighteen-hundred-and-fucking-thirty-six, and whose author demonstrated better science, intelligence and morality than Derbyshire ever will.  The paper, by Friedrich Tiedemann, is titled, “On the Brain of the Negro, Compared with That of the European and the Orang-Outang,” and argues against the prevailing view of the time that blacks are inherently unintelligent and much more kin with apes.

A little context regarding race views of Tiedemann’s time seems appropriate here.   In 1836, slavery was still very much alive in the Western world: the United States, of course, would not abolish slavery until the 13th amendment of the Constitution was passed in 1865 in the wake of the Civil War.  In the United Kingdom proper, slavery had long been banned, but it was only outlawed in the British colonies in 1831.

It is not surprising, then, that many people at the time were eager to maintain the status quo and the “superiority” of the European peoples.  Even scientists, some quite prominent, looked for “scientific” justification for their views.  For instance, the French zoologist Georges Cuvier argued that the white race is superior to all others:

The white race, with oval face, straight hair and nose, to which the civilised people of Europe belong and which appear to us the most beautiful of all, is also superior to others by its genius, courage and activity.

It was in this atmosphere that Friedrich Tiedemann (1781-1861) undertook his studies.  Originally trained in zoology, anatomy and anthropology, he turned his attention to physiology when he accepted a professorship in Heidelberg in 1816.  Somewhere along the line of his physiological researches he began to investigate the differences in size and structure of the nervous systems of whites and blacks.  He begins:

I take the liberty of presenting to the Royal Society a paper on a subject which appears to me to be of great importance in the natural history, anatomy, and physiology of Man; interesting also in a political and legislative point of view. Celebrated naturalists, Camper, Soemmerring,  and Cuvier, look upon the Negroes as a race inferior to the European in organization and intellectual powers, having much resemblance with the Monkey. Naturalists of less authority have exaggerated this opinion. Were it proved to be correct, the Negro would occupy a different situation in society from that which has so lately been given him by the noble British Government.

I propose in this treatise to examine more minutely the most important part of this doctrine, namely, the structure of the brain, the noblest part of the human body, in reference to its functions. A comparison between the brain of the Negro and that of the European and the Orang-Outang, hitherto much neglected, appeared to me most worthy of attention. I shall first of all try to answer the following two questions.

1st, Is there any important and essential difference between the structure of the brain of the Negro and that of the European? and

2ndly, Has the brain of the Negro more resemblance to that of the Orang-Outang than the brain of the European?

Should our researches induce us to answer these questions in the affirmative, we should then have reason to consider the opinion given above as true, and founded in nature. Should we be able to prove the falsity of this opinion, we should then be allowed to consider it as a mere literary fancy.

Tiedemann was well aware of the implications of his research.  If he found that the “Negro” brain was inferior in size, weight, or structure to the European brain, it could justify a strict class system based on race, as many seemed to desire.

Plate from Tiedemann's paper.

His research method was brutally straightforward; he simply compared a large number of specimens from different races:

Comparison alone will enable us to answer these two questions.  In order to do which we must first of all consider the size, weight, and dimensions of the objects to be compared. I have taken the materials for such a comparison from, my researches on the brain and skull of Man and lower animals, for which purpose I have consulted the most celebrated anatomical museums, both on the Continent and in Great Britain.

Tiedemann gives an in-depth discussion of his methods and observations, including measurements from hundreds of anatomical specimens.  I am not particularly qualified to discuss his methodology in detail (you can read more about his research in a nice article by the late Stephen Jay Gould), and so will jump to his conclusions:

I. The brain of a Negro is upon the whole quite as large as that of the European and other human races. The weight of the brain, its dimensions, and the capacity of the cavum cranii prove this fact. Many anatomists have also incorrectly asserted that Europeans have a larger brain than Negroes.

II. The nerves of the Negro, relatively to the size of the brain, are not thicker than those of Europeans, as Soemmerring and his followers have said.

III. The outward form of the spinal cord, the medulla oblongata, the cerebellum, and cerebrum of the Negro, show no important difference from that of the European.

IV. Nor does the inward structure, the order of the cortical and medullary substance, nor the inward organization of the interior of the Negro brain show any difference from that of the European.

V. The Negro brain does not resemble that of the Orang-Outang more than the European brain, except in the more symmetrical distribution of the gyri and sulci. It is not even certain if this is always the case. We cannot therefore coincide with the opinion of many naturalists, who say that the Negro has more resemblance to Apes than Europeans, in reference to the brain and nervous system. It is true that many ugly and degenerate Negro tribes on the coast show some similarity in their outward form and inward structure to the Ape for instance, in the greater size of the bones of the face, the projecting alveoli and teeth, the prominent cheek-bones, the jaw, the position of the foramen occipitale magnum, the relative greater length of the ossa humeri and the bones of the foramen, the flat foot, and in the length, breadth, shape, and position of the os calcis. Such are the similarities with the Ape mentioned by those authors who have paid more particular attention to the growth and anatomy of the Negro, as Camper, Soemmerring, Cuvier, White, Lawrence, and Virey, These points certainly distinguish many Negro tribes from the Europeans, but they are not common to all the Negroes of the interior of Africa; the greater number of which are well made, and heave handsome features.

The latter sentences are worth an extra comment.  Tiedemann argues that the “ugly and degenerate Negro tribes” that show deficiencies in intellect and structure are those that represent “the miserable remains of an enslaved people, bodily and spiritually lowered and degraded by slavery and ill treatment.”  To put Tiedemann’s argument in other words, it is “nurture”, not “nature”, that has the strongest influence on one’s intellectual capability.

Of course, such statements are an oversimplification of very complicated issues.  One might wonder why I bring up such an old paper at all; certainly more recent research has been done?

There are two reasons this is relevant.  First, it is worth noting that even 176 years ago people had studied and discarded the views of people like Derbyshire.  Second, the conclusions of Tiedemann’s article give us a unique insight into the motivations of people who attempt to use science to justify racism:

The brain is undoubtedly the organ of the mind. It is the part of our body which gives us the consciousness of our own existence, and through which we receive the impressions made upon the external senses, conducted to the brain by the nerves. Here the perceptions are compared and combined so as to produce ideas. In this organ we think, reason, desire, and will. In short, the brain is the instrument by which all the operations called intellectual are carried on. It is proved by facts and observations that animals partake of feelings, sensations, and intellectual faculties in a higher degree, and approach more nearly to mankind in proportion as their brain resembles more the human brain. An intimate connexion between the structure of the brain and the intellectual faculties in the animal kingdom cannot be doubted. As the facts which we have advanced plainly prove that there are no well-marked and essential differences between the brain of the Negro and European, we must conclude that no innate difference in the intellectual faculties can be admitted to exist between them. This has been denied by philosophers, naturalists, and travellers, who assert that the Ethiopian race is naturally inferior to the European in intellectual and moral powers. The data upon which such an opinion is based are either erroneous suppositions and false deductions from anatomy and physiology, or superficial observations on the intellectual and moral faculties of the Negroes, made by partial or prejudiced travellers.

Emphasis mine.  176 years ago Tiedemann was able to see through bullshit “science” designed with an agenda to justify racism.

Derbyshire is pulling a similar con.  His statement is dishonest on multiple levels, as he uses  oversimplification, omission, and unjustified unstated assumptions to reach the conclusion that blacks are less intelligent than whites.

It should be noted that Derbyshire’s statement on IQ is accurate: in the U.S., the average IQ score for blacks is significantly lower than whites.  However, he then pulls a very egregious swindle when he unequivocally equates IQ with “intelligence”.  The definition of “intelligence”, however, is controversial: what, exactly, do we mean by the word?  There is no unique definition of intelligence, and it is a concept that can vary even from culture to culture.

An IQ test is an attempt to rate intelligence by the ability to solve a particular class of problems.  In technical terms, one would call it a proxy statistic: from a subject’s test-taking ability, we attempt to rate their overall intellect.  It has been demonstrated that IQ scores tend to correlate well with a subject’s general success at life.  But is it really measuring some sort of absolute degree of “intelligence”, or just measuring one’s ability to deal with a particular set of problems?  Nobody knows for certain, but Derbyshire, by omission, implies that IQ is an absolute measure of intelligence.

Anyone who knows anything about tests, however, is that they only measure one thing with certainty: the ability to do well on that particular test.  Plenty of factors can cause huge variations in testing ability that have little to do with one’s ability to reason, such as educational background, cultural background, and socioeconomic status.  Even practice can improve one’s testing ability, as the massive number of SAT training books and courses  demonstrates.  That isn’t to say that IQ tests and, more generally, the study of psychometrics, are invalid, but that the assessment of intelligence is far more complicated than a single test can provide.  Actual researchers in these fields are well aware of this.

Derbyshire’s other great sin is one of omission: he complete neglects these other possible factors influencing IQ scores.  By simply stating that race is correlated with IQ without any caveats, he is implying that IQ is completely determined by race, i.e. that it is biologically determined.  It will not be surprising at this point to note that there is no consensus on the degree to which biology influences one’s intelligence.  Researchers, faced with an IQ disparity between races, are investigating if this is representative of biological differences or other environmental and societal factors — Derbyshire and his spiritual cohorts have immediately jumped to the unjustified and self-serving conclusion that it is entirely biological.  This attitude is not much different from the racists in Tiedemann’s time, who singled out broken-down and enslaved races to draw broad conclusions about racial intelligence.

Keep this in mind whenever you hear someone arguing that racial differences in intelligence have been proven “scientifically”.  We don’t really know how to properly measure “intelligence”, if it even makes sense to argue that intelligence can be quantified.  Tests are only one indicator of a human’s reasoning and cognitive ability.  Folks like John Derbyshire are really looking for an excuse to justify their own innate racism; even without the “science”, they would still hold exactly the same unjustified views.

As of yesterday, Derbyshire had been fired by the National Review; his statements were a little too overtly extreme, even for them.  As Tiedemann’s article indicates, however, he wasn’t the first to attempt to cherry-pick science to justify racism, and he certainly won’t be the last.

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22 Responses to John Derbyshire: wrong even 176 years ago

  1. What a great way to put John Derbyshire is context.

  2. Pechorin says:

    From “Mainstream Science on Intelligence” (1994), endorsed by 52 experts: “Intelligence is a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan,
    solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. … [Intelligence tests] are among the most accurate (in technical terms, reliable and valid) of all psychological tests and assessments. … [They] are not culturally biased against American blacks.”

    Psychologists have detected a general mental ability factor (g) that underlies all forms of thinking: verbal, spatial, and so on. g is raw brainpower, highly general and highly practical. It even helps you take the bus. It is not some “statistical artifact.” g predicts job performance better than any other indicator — even better than job experience (Schmidt & Hunter, 2004).

    IQ tests, like the WAIS and Stanford-Binet, are a good way to measure g. From “Mainstream Science on Intelligence,” again: “IQ is strongly related, probably more so than any other single
    measurable human trait, to many important educational, occupational, economic, and social outcomes. … Whatever IQ tests measure, it is of great practical and social importance.”

    In the USA, the average black IQ is about 85, and the average white IQ is about 100. (East Asians score about 105.) The 15 to 18-point black-white IQ gap is an established scientific fact. Forget “The Bell Curve” (1994). You can read about it in college textbooks like “Human Biological Variation” (2006): “There is little debate over the average 15-point difference [in IQ]
    between American blacks and whites.”

    Does poverty explain the gap? t sounds plausible — except someone already tested that theory and proved it wrong. Consider the SAT, which mostly measures g. Colleges use it because it predicts academic success well. SAT scores tend to rise with family income, and that’s as far as most people look into it. But at every income level, whites score much higher than blacks on both the math and verbal sections (by about 100 and 110 points). In 2009, white children from the poorest families (earning < $20k a year) outscored by 12 points black children from the richest families ($160k–$200k a year).

    The predictive value of g guarantees that the black-white g gap has profound consequences. At least 1 in 4 blacks (vs. 1 in 20 whites) has an IQ below 75 (Jensen, 1994). Compared to people with average IQs, for people with IQs below 75, the odds are
    • 1.8 times higher to be unemployed 1+ months/year (men),
    • 2.4 times higher to go to prison at some point (men),
    • 5.2 times higher to be chronic welfare recipients (women),
    • 5.4 times higher to have illegitimate children (women),
    • 6.7 times higher to live in poverty as an adult, and
    • 19 times higher to drop out of high school (Gottfredson, 2002).
    The g gap predicts racial disparities in social outcomes, which are usually put down to "systemic racism." Since 88% of blacks are born below the white average in intelligence (Levin, 1997), does it make sense to "correct" black under-representation with affirmative action, or are we just discriminating against whites in order to advance some black people beyond their abilities?

  3. stephaniezvan says:

    Fascinating, Pechorin. Not your thesis or your evidence, which have been soundly dealt with plenty of places, but that you’re running around the internet posting it everywhere Derbyshire is mentioned.

    Also that you would quote a *biology* textbook on the subject of psychometrics but not on what it had to say about the biological underpinnings: “What is less clear, and vigorously debated, is the meaning of this difference. Is the black-white difference genetic, environmental, or both?” Note that your source for one part of your argument contradicts your claim that “someone” (is that the APA style of citation?) tested poverty as a cause of IQ test score differences and came up with a definitive answer. One would think you’d notice that contradiction.

    On the other hand, you didn’t notice that your SAT data don’t answer the question you’ve proposed. No one, after all, is proposing a single reason for IQ test score differences, so noting that one study on one variable doesn’t account for all the variation is hardly relevant. I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that you didn’t notice something that required considering two paragraphs at once.

    • Pechorin says:

      What “plenty of places” “deal with” the thesis that there is an intrinsic gap between racial IQs?

      No one questions that environment contributes to IQ scores, but environmental explanations have abysmally failed to explain the IQ gap. If the question is “genetic, environmental, or both?” then of course the answer is “both” (but you seem to think it’s all envirojnmental). The necessary followup question is, how much is genetic, and how much environmental? The best science I’ve seen suggests it’s mostly genetic. All I’m interested here is truth – even if that truth goes against what our political elites want us to believe.

      Let’s consider another study dealing with environmental influence: the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study. This 1976 study tested the IQs of white, black, and mixed-race children, all adopted by advantaged white families. As always, whites scored about 15 points higher than blacks. Mixed-race children placed according to their enetic makeup, partway between white and black (despite the double discrimination mixed-race children face). Twelve families mistakenly believed their mixed-race child was black, and raised them accordingly; those children scored like the other mixed-race children (similar genes), not like the black children (similar environment).

      Concerning the claim that we don’t know how to quantify intelligence – this is just the same kind of deception used by professional climate change skeptics and their ilk. Claim that everything is complicated – which of course it is – and then use the cover of scientific skepticism as an excuse to ignore the results of science. Claim that the whole thing is too complex for science to understand and then pray your readers don’t take the time to investigate the evidence themselves. Of course not all information about mental function can be expressed in a single parameter. The astonishing fact is that one parameter, g, has proven in study after study to have great explanatory power in predicting social outcomes.

      In response to “Anyone who knows anything about tests, however, is that they only measure one thing with certainty: the ability to do well on that particular test,” – this is nonsense, or at any rate abuse of the term “certainty.” As I quoted above, from “Mainstream Science on Intelligence”: “IQ is strongly related, probably more so than any other single measurable human trait, to many important educational, occupational, economic, and social outcomes. … whatever IQ tests measure, it is of great practical and social importance.” You might as well say that height measures only one thing with certainty – height. True, but height is also useful in predicting, say, arm length. I’m sure you can find some short guys with incredibly long arms, but that doesn’t disprove the general relationship between height and arm length.

      Of course this matter can be extended into a lengthy debate – too lengthy for a blog comment. Most of the studies that attempt to establish enviromnental factors as predominant fail to measure adult IQ, which is a damning defect since childhood IQs are highly malleable in the short term, but the effects of such intervention have (unfortunately) proven not to last.

      In summary, you are claiming (without citation) that Derbyshire’s claims about intelligence are unscientific and have been proven wrong; I’m claiming that although the measurement of intelligence and determination of its causes is indeed complex, the best evidence suggests he is substantially correct. I haven’t seen you say anything to disprove that claim.

      • Concerning the claim that we don’t know how to quantify intelligence – this is just the same kind of deception used by professional climate change skeptics and their ilk. Claim that everything is complicated – which of course it is – and then use the cover of scientific skepticism as an excuse to ignore the results of science.

        Um, bullshit. Global climate change is a physical process with well-defined implications for the planet based on sound physical and chemical processes. We can, and do, quantify and directly measure average global temperature, sea level, carbon dioxide levels. There’s no such thing as a direct, unique measure of intelligence. There can be “accepted” measures of intelligence, and “useful” measures of intelligence, but such an ill-defined term will never have a unique, unambiguous meaning.

        As I quoted above, from “Mainstream Science on Intelligence”: “IQ is strongly related, probably more so than any other single measurable human trait, to many important educational, occupational, economic, and social outcomes. … whatever IQ tests measure, it is of great practical and social importance.”

        So your main citation on IQ tests is an non-peer-reviewed Wall Street Journal editorial published over 15 years ago? One that was also significantly criticized by other experts in the fields then and now?

        In summary, you are claiming (without citation) that Derbyshire’s claims about intelligence are unscientific and have been proven wrong; I’m claiming that although the measurement of intelligence and determination of its causes is indeed complex, the best evidence suggests he is substantially correct. I haven’t seen you say anything to disprove that claim.

        That’s okay; I’m pretty much guessing from your initial comment:

        Since 88% of blacks are born below the white average in intelligence (Levin, 1997), does it make sense to “correct” black under-representation with affirmative action, or are we just discriminating against whites in order to advance some black people beyond their abilities?

        That this discussion wasn’t really about assessing “truth” for you, but rather more about your own political agenda. Oddly enough, you’ve kind of indirectly given strength to the point I was trying to make.

        I’m pretty much done talking with you now.


        A few other links on the complexity of the race/IQ/intelligence dust-up, a problem that never goes away.

        IQ and race

        Race and IQ, again and again

        More on IQ and race

        The Flynn Effect and IQ Disparities Among Races, Ethnicities, and Nations: Are There Common Links?

        Race and IQ (pdf)

        Mephisto on race and IQ

        Race, gender, IQ and Nature

  4. It amazes me how much mankind is walking backwards in an era where technological development should have already pushed us way further! Much more amazing is the fact that the place where so many of these advances took place (the US) seem to be at the forefront of the backwards march (?). Baffling. Just plain sad.
    It all comes down (albeit a bit simplistically) to scientific iliteracy; thanks for doing yyour effort in tackling such an important problem that is tied to scientific sustainability.

  5. Pingback: Links for 2012-04-10 : Uncertain Principles

  6. Sparrow says:

    Truth is racist.

  7. Pechorin says:

    One further point – as you mention Stephen Jay Gould, you should be aware of the extensive criticism his work on this topic has received. A single incisive example will be more pursuasive than a long list, so I’ll just point you to a study published last year in PLoS Biology. Do read it –
    it’s very simple, and eviscerates Gould’s work on Morton in a mere 5 pages. Here it is:…/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pbio.1001071

  8. Peter Morgan says:

    When the difference of nurture is many generations long, the distinction between nature and nurture becomes increasingly delicate. Tiedemann’s research into the relative sizes of the brain and a number of its various components does not prove that the biochemistry of different races is the same — and, against it, we know that at least one easily visible aspect of the biochemistry of different races is different. The difference of skin color is a result of a difference of environment over millennia, more or less sunlight, that also introduces a different type of competitive environment. Agriculture in equatorial weather, inter alia, is different from agriculture in sub-arctic weather. It seems that crop failures and other environmental stress encourage different kinds of ingenuity and of violence against others as means to survival, and that difference has acted over tens of millennia.

    To engage in a marginally related riff, the nature of social cohesion amongst African Americans appears quite different from what prevails amongst European Americans, and different again from the forms of social cohesion in the variety of African, South American, and near and far Eastern societies. What remains to be seen is which form of social cohesion will do better as we head into an era of much greater resource competition. A variety of adjustments of social structure happen in each generation at both the micro and macro level, including very difficult to discern fluxes of cooperation and competition, such as we currently see between European and Chinese, making prediction very difficult. Environmental stresses are likely to be so extreme and so novel over the next decades that the various social structures will be violently tested both in cooperation and competition with one another. Of course the nature of social cohesion is only one of the many things that are difficult to talk about (I’m not an anthropologist!) that seem generically different between different national and racial groups, and that can seem more or less important as we discuss different aspects of life.

    It seems to me that the only explanation for the likes of Derbyshire’s outburst, which is hardly unique and will certainly recur, is that we have the herd animal’s desire to choose the right group in which to survive and to improve one’s children’s chances of survival. In the present state of anticipation a choice once identified and made becomes a matter of life and death. The fears we now face seem quite different in their lack of absolute immediacy from the fears of war, the bomb, and the Commies that our parents faced in the 40s, 50, 60s, 70s, and 80s, but on occasion they can seem the more terrifying for being at once so diffuse and so manifest.

  9. Pechorin says:

    It is impossible to respond to all of the links you gave in the space of a blog comment, so I’ll confine myself to replying to the criticisms you made yourself.

    First, that intelligence is a vague concept, and that it cannot be uniquely quantified. Of course this is true, but so are most concepts in natural language. Temperature is a vague concept – we might want something like the heat index, taking into account humidity. However, there’s nothing wrong with making the definition temperature = what a properly functioning thermometer says. The concept you get won’t quite match what we mean when we say “it’s hot outside” but that’s ok, it’s still useful.

    Likewise, we can define intelligence to be IQ. This doesn’t capture everything contained in the natural language term “intelligence” but that’s fine. The one parameter IQ has enough explanatory scope to justify this decision. To define a term by how you measure it is utterly normal in science, as in the example of temperature. Some things get left out of such definitions, but that doesn’t mean we don’t study them, just that we study them under a different name, as in the case of humidity. Actually, I would have done better to be more precise and use the term “general intelligence,” but it’s just a metter of terminology.

    Second, you complained that “Mainstream science in intelligence” has been criticized. Anything written on such a politically charged field is criticized. In any event, as far as I am aware, the critics did not take exception with the passage that I quoted.

    Your methodology reminds me of the procedure for discrediting government reports recommended by Sir Humphrey in the excellent show “Yes Minister.” Say “some of the findings have been questioned” – no need to specify which, or on what grounds. If they haven’t, then question them – now they have.

    Third, you suggest that I’m not concerned with truth, but with a political agenda. On the contrary. The political agends follows from the truth. If I am wrong, I would always like to be corrected. Why would I want to advance a political agenda based on falsehoods? Such an agenda would make things worse. Truth alone triumphs; not falsehood. I hope you take this to heart, and look into the evidence with an open mind and will to truth, not out of a eristic drive, nor out of fear for the politics that might follow. We have nothing to fear from the truth.

    • Temperature is a vague concept – we might want something like the heat index, taking into account humidity.

      LOL! Okay, any doubts I had that you were a sincere person are pretty much gone with that statement. Do you realize that I’m a physicist? Temperature is absolutely not vague at all, and had a very specific definition in both thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. Every physicist agrees on the definition of temperature — there is no such agreement on the definition of “intelligence”.

      Likewise, we can define intelligence to be IQ. This doesn’t capture everything contained in the natural language term “intelligence” but that’s fine.

      Until someone naturally steps across the line and then equates a defined meaning of “intelligence” with a colloquial meaning, which is exactly what Derbyshire has done — and you seem determined to do.

      Anything written on such a politically charged field is criticized.

      So I suppose that just allows you to ignore those criticisms? How convenient! Well, as long as you’re quoting a Wall Street Journal article from 1994, the American Psychological Association report– “Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns“, published in 1995 — notes that:

      The cause of that differential is not known; it is apparently not due to any simple form of bias in the content or administration of the tests themselves. The Flynn effect shows that environmental factors can produce differences of at least this magnitude, but that effect is mysterious in its own right. Several culturally based explanations of the Black/ White IQ differential have been proposed; some are plausible, but so far none has been conclusively supported. There is even less empirical support for a genetic interpretation. In short, no adequate explanation of the differential between the IQ means of Blacks and Whites is presently available.

      More has been done since then, of course, and that’s where a lot of the links I provided — and plenty more — come in. The general arguments I made in my post are a summary of my understanding. Is there a biological component? Likely. Are things that simple, as Derbyshire would have us believe? Unclear, and unlikely.

      Third, you suggest that I’m not concerned with truth, but with a political agenda. On the contrary. The political agends follows from the truth.

      I might believe that, except that your original comment brought in a discussion of affirmative action, which was otherwise a non-sequitur in a post that didn’t discuss affirmative action at all. In poker, that’s called a “tell” — giving clues to your real intent. Here’s another tell: your recent post lamenting that the coverage of Trayvon Martin doesn’t use an up-to-date, and presumably “scarier” in your eyes, picture of him. See, to me, I just see a picture of a slightly older kid trying to look cool. The fact that you clearly think there is something significantly telling in that picture speaks volumes.

      Like I said, you’ve indirectly bolstered the argument I was making in the post. Heck, you’ve pretty much attempted, in more elaborate terms, to justify Derbyshire’s views. Considering Derbyshire is an avowed racist, it really raises doubts about your sincerity.

      I’ve had enough of you, and am blocking any future comments of yours — I have more important things to do. Don’t bother coming back.

  10. Pingback: More on Derbyshire | Almost Diamonds

  11. John says:

    It pains me to say this, but you don’t actually seem to show that Derbyshire is really wrong. You merely show that the implication that the discrepancy is related to genetics is, at best, highly questionable. But he doesn’t explicitly make that claim.

    • No, he doesn’t explicitly make the claim, but it is an implicit one since he gives no other explanatory factors other than race. Perhaps a better title would have been, “John Derbyshire manipulates the facts in a misleading way to make a self-serving point.” I would say he is wrong in implying that the relation between race and intelligence is a closed case, and a straightforward one.

      P.S. Don’t be pained! I’m happy to hear constructive criticism and discussion.

  12. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    I was asked to take part in an experiment in college … we were given an IQ tess. I scored about 65. I’m barely educable, and definitely not college material, according to that test.

    All it proved is that I’m a whiz at taking tests, and I would make a lousy Japanese pre-schooler. That’s right, given the non-verbal pictures-only IQ screening test that is administered to toddlers in Japan, I flunked it big time.

    Gould had it correct in … IQ tests aren’t the be-all and end-all of intelligence.

    • Tsu Dho Nimh says:

      ADDING: I outscored most of the class, because I had some familiarity with Japanese life and culture. People with a typical American monoculture upbringing were scoring in the 30s.

    • Fascinating — thanks for sharing! Part of the problem with interpreting these IQ results as an absolute measure of intelligence is that it implies things that are completely counter to common sense. This article states it quite nicely: an absolute interpretation of IQ would imply that literally half of sub-Saharan Africans (average IQ 70) are mentally retarded., with a large percentage unable to take care of their basic needs for survival. With an average IQ of 80, African-Americans would have a huge percentage of people who should be mentally deficient. Neither result gibes at all with my in person experiences with real human beings.

  13. yorksranter says:

    The problem with “g” is that it is an error in statistics. Cosma Shalizi’s classic blog post explains in detail, but the problem is thus:

    We do a bunch of IQ tests. We reason that performance on them consists of a noise term and a real underlying factor of intelligence. We do a factor analysis, and we discover that – wahey – there’s a factor that is bigger than others. We call this g.

    The problem is that, if the tests are positively correlated (and they have to be, because IQ tests are designed to be positively correlated), there’s always one factor that’s bigger than the others, whatever the data is, because it represents all the variance not otherwise explained. What it actually is depends entirely on which factors we picked a priori.

    You can, and Cosma does in his post, derive g from IQ test scores generated by drawing numbers out of a hat, or rather out of your friendly local psuedorandom number generator.

    If you believe in g, you must also believe that your PC’s PRNG can be either black or white:-)

  14. Kaleberg says:

    The problem is that genetically determined intelligence can change quickly, sometimes dramatically within a generation. Eastern European Jews had terribly low IQs according the the Yerkes IQ measurements during WWI, but by WWII, just one generation later, they were prime fodder for the Manhattan Project being so bright and all. It was a dramatic change. One generation was too stupid to shine your shoes, but the next generation Harvard and Yale needed to set up quotas to keep them out.

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