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Peter T Chattaway

James Watson, race, genes, i.q., and so on.

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In DNA Era, New Worries About Prejudice

When scientists first decoded the human genome in 2000, they were quick to portray it as proof of humankind's remarkable similarity. The DNA of any two people, they emphasized, is at least 99 percent identical.

But new research is exploring the remaining fraction to explain differences between people of different continental origins. . . .

Such developments are providing some of the first tangible benefits of the genetic revolution. Yet some social critics fear they may also be giving long-discredited racial prejudices a new potency. The notion that race is more than skin deep, they fear, could undermine principles of equal treatment and opportunity that have relied on the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal. . . .

New york Times, November 11

Race is not a social construct

But notice: Dr. Clark appeals to transcendent morality to deny drawing certain social-policy conclusions from scientific data. It would be immoral and ungodly, he says, to treat people differently because of their genetic code. That's what the church teaches -- and when the Catholic Church and fundamentalist Protestants protested against eugenics policies in the early 20th century on precisely those grounds, they were denounced as hicks by progressives.

Absent an authoritative commitment to these principles, how do we keep science that shows cognitive differences between races from being used oppressively? . . .

Anyway, we can be reasonably sure that science that delivers news that freaks liberal out won't be paid much attention to -- which is a shame, because we have to talk about this stuff intelligently and without illusion. All I would hope for -- all I think it's reasonable to hope for -- is an acknowledgement that gaining scientific knowledge isn't a wholly positive phenomenon, and that we as a society should proceed with extreme caution on these findings, given human nature and the potential for abuse. . . .

Rod Dreher, Crunchy Con, Beliefnet.com, November 12

Created Equal

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. . . .

William Saletan, Slate.com, November 18

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When I first read about Watson's statements, I found myself asking many of the questions the above articles touch on, especially the Slate article. I won't pretend that these "controversies" are the final nail in evolution's coffin, but I do hope that the moral and ethical quandaries raised are explored with some measure of honesty, rather than just swept under the rug.

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The Slate.com article jumped out at me too, partly because I spent part of the weekend in the company of some Intelligent Design types -- including two guys from the Discovery Institute -- and I find myself wondering if the IDers' call for "academic freedom" should be applied to these other issues, too. Certainly it is interesting how the Slate.com article goes so far as to compare the liberals (who reject the scientific study of racial differences) to "creationists". And I have certainly already seen at least one prominent IDer (NOT one of the people I met on the weekend) cite the Watson quotes as evidence of the folly of Darwinism. But like I say, if IDers are really in favour of "academic freedom" and following the evidence where it leads, then surely they should not be ganging up on a fellow scientist simply for saying politically incorrect things?

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No idea, though it hardly matters for the purposes of this thread. The facts are what they are, the science is what it is, etc., etc. The moral inclinations of any particular scientist who studies those facts is a separate matter entirely.

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Summit called to address racial disparities in academic performance

Every time state schools chief Jack O'Connell thought he was doing something to close the achievement gap, a new round of test scores showed that black and Latino students had gained no ground on their white and Asian American peers.

Like many educators, O'Connell assumed the culprit was poverty. Then he noticed an even wider ethnic disparity among students who were not poor.

The realization was a jolt: Being black or Latino - not poor - was what the low-scorers had in common. And it changed everything.

O'Connell now believes that widespread cultural ignorance within the California school system is responsible for the poor academic performance of many black and Latino students in school.

He offered the example of black children who learn at church that it's good to clap, speak loudly and be a bit raucous. But doing the same thing at school, where 72 percent of teachers are white and may be unfamiliar with such customs, will get them in trouble, he said.

The achievement gap is "absolutely, positively not genetic," O'Connell said. "All kids can learn. I'm saying it's racial." . . .

San Francisco Chronicle, November 12

State summit targets ethnic gap in student achievement

On the eve of the state's first gathering to unravel why minority students fare worse than whites and Asians, the state's top elected educator sparked controversy last week when he linked black churches to cultural barriers that hold back African American students. . . .

O'Connell, who is white, said he meant to fault only the education system, but the comparison led to criticism. The ensuing mini-tempest prompted a follow-up by the local NBC television affiliate.

"This is a big put-down," the Rev. Amos Brown, head of the San Francisco NAACP, told the NBC reporter. "I think that he owes a statement of clarification or an apology." . . .

Los Angeles Times, November 18

Environmental Impact

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. . . .

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. . . .

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.

William Saletan, Slate.com, November 19

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Alan Thomas wrote:

: I find this a bit bizarre (just a bit). Maybe it's the postmodern in me, but do you really believe a scientist can come up with a pure "fact" with absolutely no spin, no interpretive corruption--especially in such a loaded area as this?

I think when scientists find evidence that points away from their beliefs -- indeed, evidence that repulses them, but which they have no choice but to accept -- then that's probably as good as it's going to get. See, again, the last three or four centuries of debate over evolution.

: I do strongly believe that there may be a lot of cultural, rather than genetic, causes, for example. I bring that bias. It wouldn't surprise me if Watson could only see genetic dynamics and was blind to other factors. My vivisection question was relevant because it illustrates some of those blinders.

Well, Saletan, for one, is not Watson. Nor are many of the scientists that Saletan cites.

Personally, I'd just like to figure out what sort of sense it makes for O'Connell to say that the learning gap between black/Latino and white/Asian students is "absolutely, positively not genetic" but it IS "racial". What is race if NOT genetic? Race is nothing more nor less than a slightly in-bred extended family. That's genetic. And just as some traits are more pronounced in some families than others, so too some traits are more pronounced in some races than others. That's genetic.

(Incidentally, I would argue that this definition or understanding of "race" argues AGAINST a "racist" worldview. It prompts me, at least, to think, e.g., that there should be more intermarrying between the races, more "genetic blending", more diversification, and less "in-breeding", so to speak.)

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Alan Thomas wrote:

: Race is not just genetic.

But if it isn't genetic at all, then it isn't race.

: It's also cultural in the broadest sense of the word.

Sure, so is family. In fact, "family" is even MORE broadly cultural, as a concept, since you can be legally adopted or disowned, etc. But I have never heard of anyone being adopted into or disowned from a race. Sure, every now and then you get someone who says, e.g., that Bill Clinton was America's "first black president" because of his socio-economic origins, or that Colin Powell isn't "really" black because he likes the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. But when someone from within the black community (and why are we using the singular? aren't there many African gene pools?) makes a comment like that, it hardly has the legal or cultural force of adopting a son or daughter into one's own family, etc.

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Alan Thomas wrote:

: Oh, come on. How many actors of one race play actors in entirely different racial categories?

Are you serious? I thought this was the Science and Technology forum. Most of us can distinguish between the actor and the character. The fact is, race is what it is for the actor, just as it is what it is for the character, but the actor and the character move in different worlds. John Travolta may play a woman in Hairspray, and his character may really BE a woman within the world of that film, but Travolta himself is all man, and the fact that he was cast against gender type doesn't change the fact that there are certain obvious differences between men and women on average at both the genotype and phenotype level -- both within the real world and, presumably, even within the world of that film.

: What about children of one race raised in the family of another race?

Are you saying that a black boy becomes Latino simply because he is adopted by Latinos? Are you saying that a girl becomes a boy simply because she is adopted by two gay men?

: Race is incredibly complex, much more complex than gender.

Well of course. Virtually everyone is either male or female, and only a tiny fraction of us are intersex, whereas almost all of us represent a mixture of genetic heritages on SOME level, to SOME degree. (Even a term like Anglo-Saxon carries within itself a recognition of genetic blending.) So of course race is complex. And so is family. Genes are like that. Simple, they ain't.

In other news, Saletan has posted the third part of his series today:

- - -

All God's Children

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. . . .

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. . . .

William Saletan, Slate.com, November 20

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But new research is exploring the remaining fraction to explain differences between people of different continental origins. . . .

Such developments are providing some of the first tangible benefits of the genetic revolution. Yet some social critics fear they may also be giving long-discredited racial prejudices a new potency. The notion that race is more than skin deep, they fear, could undermine principles of equal treatment and opportunity that have relied on the presumption that we are all fundamentally equal. . . .

See, here is the problem.

Is it a scientific possibility that racial differences statistically correlate with intelligence gaps? Yes. That is "racist" in the classical sense of a theory of scientific hierarchies among races, but not necessarily in the political sense of bigoted or prejudiced or rooted in hatred or contempt for other groups, and not necessarily untrue. It is also a scientific possibility that sex statistically correlates with intelligence gaps, and that is "sexist" in one sense but not necessarily misogynistic or untrue. (Note that I speak of intelligence gaps in the plural, because intelligence is manifold, and advantages in some areas may not correlate with advantages in other areas.)

Of course it is undeniable that individuals of any race or of either sex may be greatly inferior or superior intellectually or in other ways to individuals of any other group. On a materialist view (Archie, are you out there?), it may certainly be felt that those with greater gifts are simply superior in value to those of lesser gifts, or are entitled to treat others as their inferiors, just as we treat animals as our inferiors (and just as smarter and stronger animals treat less empowered animals as their inferiors). However, Christian anthropology dictates that the dignity of the human person is not contingent upon his powers. A deeply retarded Aborigine child with Downs syndrome, say, has the same human dignity as an Oxford-educated Korean polymath Olympic athlete. (And the Aborigine child's sister may be a lot brighter than the Korean polymath's son.)

Of course in our post-everything world the dictates of Christian anthropology may not cut much. FWIW, though, rather than undercutting principles of "equal treatment and opportunity," I wonder whether such theories might be felt to discredit, or to reinforce, currently enforced principles of racial preference for minorities. On the one hand, it might be argued that if there are intelligence gaps (and other cultural factors), unequal results may not be as indicative of prejudicial structures as has been argued. On the other hand, it might also be argued that if human dignity is a constant but intelligence is not, perhaps those who are statistically disadvantaged even by genome ought to be given a permanent leg up, so to speak. On the other hand again, it might be answered that this principle would seem to apply equally to disadvantages within groups, and college admissions, say, should prefer to accept those with lesser test scores to those with higher, because the former are disadvantaged relative to the former, and the clever will be better able to support themselves even without higher education.

Edited by SDG

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Alan Thomas wrote:

: My point is that race can't be determined merely by a blood test. It isn't just heredity and genetics. And, in very limited circumstances, it may not even involve them. I would say that a black child raised Latino is Latino (but perhaps not Hispanic or Native American or mulato or...) AND Black.

Then you confuse race with culture. I prefer to let different words mean different things without confusing them unnecessarily. Your "perhaps not" is very telling.

: Not to mention that few African Americans are purely African any more.

Yes, as has already been noted in the previous posts and/or the items to which they linked. So, too, has the fact that there are many races within Africa itself. "Africa" is not a single race any more than "Africa" is a single country. (And by "many races", I mean many BLACK races; I am not trying to sneak in the fact that there are non-black races in Africa too.)

: You can try to split hairs about ethnicity and race all you want, but the lines do get blurred in popular usage if not in clinical terms.

Well, science does tend to be clinical, and this IS the 'Science and Technology' forum, so there ya go. If you want to discuss culture, take it up in the 'Political and Social Issues' forum.

SDG wrote:

: It is also a scientific possibility that sex statistically correlates with intelligence gaps, and that is "sexist" in one sense but not necessarily misogynistic or untrue.

FWIW, in the wake of the Larry Summers controversy, someone pointed out that men are statistically more likely to be geniuses than women, but also statistically more likely to be idiots (as the "popular usage" might have it; I can't recall what the "clinical" term would be) than women. In other words, if you take a bunch of men and plot their intelligences on a chart, and if you take the same number of women and plot their intelligences on a chart, women will be more evenly distributed, while men will tend to bunch up at both ends.

: (Note that I speak of intelligence gaps in the plural, because intelligence is manifold, and advantages in some areas may not correlate with advantages in other areas.)

A very good point.

: However, Christian anthropology dictates that the dignity of the human person is not contingent upon his powers.

Precisely so -- and that is because all Christians are "creationists" in a sense, even if we are not all young-earthers or anti-evolutionists. :) We believe in a Creator who confers dignity upon human beings even when they are crippled or gigantic or suffering from a fatal illness with only six months left to live, etc., etc.

The interesting dilemma posed by Saletan is whether liberals who eschew religion must be "creationist" as well, in some sense, in order to insist upon "equality" as they do.

: On the other hand, it might also be argued that if human dignity is a constant but intelligence is not, perhaps those who are statistically disadvantaged even by genome ought to be given a permanent leg up, so to speak.

You mean, we should have affirmative action BECAUSE certain groups are statistically at a genetic disadvantage? Yeah, I believe Rod Dreher floats that possibility, in the post of his to which I linked above. Me, I'm still too much of an individualist to buy those sorts of arguments. (Interestingly, though, Dreher alludes to -- and maybe even links to -- evidence which suggests that if affirmative-action policies were removed, white admissions would not be affected very much, but Asian admissions would skyrocket. So affirmative-action policies essentially rob one visible minority to pay the other, and the visible majority apparently remains relatively unaffected.)

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Malcolm Gladwell reviewed a book by James Flynn in The New Yorker which touches on the controversy sparked by Watson and the article that Saletan wrote in Slate. Flynn has spent the past 25 years studying how IQ test results have changed across generations.

I.Q.s around the world appeared to be rising by 0.3 points per year, or three points per decade, for as far back as the tests had been administered. For some reason, human beings seemed to be getting smarter.

Flynn has been writing about the implications of his findings

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Ahem. ;)

Ah well, at least the second post brought this thread back up; somehow I missed the other recent posts.

Alan Thomas wrote:

: Revealed: scientist who sparked racism row has black genes (The Independent)

Is James Watson black?

It could be true that Watson is 25% nonwhite (although the graph in the Times says 27%), but it sounds unlikely to me, based on simple genealogical arithmetic that nobody else seems to have done. . . .

This reminds me of this great article I wrote in 2001 about a population geneticist doing a pioneering racial admixture study, who noticed that one of his subjects was determined to be 22% black. So, he looked into it more and discovered it was him! This came as a big surprise to him and all his relatives. I wrote it up and it was a wonderful human interest story. The only problem was that it wasn't true. As a reader pointed out to me, 22% means that, say, one grandparent was 7/8ths black, which somebody would have likely noticed. Later, the population geneticist took a look at his DNA again with better methodology and found he had been way, way off originally. . . .

Steve Sailer, December 10

James Watson and "passing"

The widely-repeated assertion by the Icelandic firm deCODE genetics that James Watson is 16% sub-Saharan black and 9% Asian (see, for instance, the new NY Times article "DNA Pioneer's Genome Blurs Race Lines") reminds me of one of the least understood contradictions in the conventional wisdom that Race Doesn't Exist:

- The existence of the One-Drop Rule shows that race is an arbitrary social construct.

- Therefore, lots of white Americans must have lots of black ancestors.

But when you stop and think about it, you realize the opposite is true: that the One-Drop Rule is the reason that so few self-identified white Americans have much black ancestry. . . .

So, with a reasonable picture in our heads of just what was required of an individual to pass, let's see how credible the claim that James Dewey Watson Jr. is 25% nonwhite now sounds. I'm going to spend some time going over this because it might help people understand how to evaluate genetic claims (by seeing, for example, if they make sense in human terms of who marries whom), and because it explains a little about what America was like. . . .

Enough detail. The point is that when you think about genes, you need to think about genealogy.

Steve Sailer, December 12

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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Saletan has published another article that he's entitled "Rethinking race and genes."

Five months ago, I wrote a series on race, genes, and intelligence. Everything about it hurt: the research, the writing, the reactions, the regrets. Not a day has gone by that I haven't thought about it. I've been struggling to reconcile two feelings that won't go away: that what I wrote was socially harmful and that I can't honestly renounce the evidence I presented. That evidence, which involved the proposed role of heredity in trait differences by race, is by no means complete or conclusive. But it's not dismissible, either. My colleague Stephen Metcalf summarized the debate better than I did: "It's a conflict between science and science."

...Even if hereditary inequality among racial averages is a truth, it's less true, more unjust, and more pernicious than framing the same difference in nonracial terms. "The truth," as I accepted and framed it, was itself half-formed. It was, in that sense, a half-truth. And it flunked the practical test I had assigned it: To the extent that a social problem is genetic, you can't ultimately solve it by understanding it in racial terms.

A study published two weeks ago in Nature Medicine illustrates the point. Gina Kolata of the New York Times explains what happened:

Doctors who treat patients with heart failure have long been puzzled by a peculiar observation. Many black patients seem to do just as well if they take a mainstay of therapy, a class of drugs called beta blockers, as if they do not. [Now researchers] have discovered why: these nonresponsive patients have a slightly altered version of a gene that muscles use to control responses to nerve signals.

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William Saletan wrote:

: In other words, racial observation turned out to be a temporary step toward a deeper genetic explanation. Most blacks don't have the altered gene, and some whites do. Given these findings, prescribing or not prescribing beta blockers based on race rather than genes would be malpractice.

An excellent point.

: In a similar way, policy prescriptions based on race are social malpractice. Not because you can't find patterns on tests, but because any biological theory that starts with observed racial patterns has to end with genetic differences that cross racial lines.

Not sure what I make of this point, since for one thing it steps beyond the concerns of the "Science and Technology" forum and moves into politics, plus it almost sounds like he is saying that social policy prescriptions in general are a bad idea because they fail to take the uniqueness of the individual into account. Or maybe he's saying that social policy positions should be based on genetic testing rather than more easily observable categories (however crude and "stone age" the observations might be).

My inclination would be to say that, just as racial profiling works in some cases ("We're looking for a white male suspect..." -- that instantly means you're going to check some people more closely than others), so too it might help medical researchers to focus some of their initial efforts in looking for genetic causes or whatever ("you're black, so there's a better than average chance that you have a gene that nullifies this form of therapy"). But whether such profiling would help in terms of SOCIAL policy, I don't know, partly because I'm not even sure what sort of cases we'd be talking about.

In any case, it seems to me that governments dictate social policy on the basis of class and geography and all sorts of other broad categories that ignore the uniqueness of individuals, so I'm not sure why this particular category would be considered immediately beyond the pale -- apart from the obvious fact that it would be politically volatile, of course.

In other news ... it looks like Steve Sailer and Jeremiah Wright might agree on something. Those who believe that Sailer is a racist and Wright isn't may have to revise one half of that opinion.

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