Unz on Race/IQ – Is It “Game Over”?

Given the vast outpouring of agitated and angry remarks by those bloggers and commenters whose long-cherished beliefs have been challenged by my Race/IQ article, it’s always very nice to discover a supportive voice, even if I might not necessary agree with absolutely every single point made.

For example, Jason Antrosio’s popular academic blog “Living Anthropologically” just yesterday published a lengthy analysis of my article and the controversy it had generated under the very flattering title “Race IQ—Game Over.” The author, a professor of anthropology on the East Coast whose blog has accumulated a remarkable 8,800 Likes, suggested that my analysis might constitute a far more effective refutation of the “strong hereditarian IQ position” than those previously made by such notable academics as Jared Diamond and Stephen Jay Gould, whose “extremely weak rebuttals…would be dismissed, in a kind of ‘that’s all you have?’ sort of way.” He now suggests that individuals seriously challenged by racialists on the topic “can declare game over on Race/IQ—see Unz 2012.”

After all, my “research” had largely consisted of reading the books and data of Richard Lynn and his allies, and pointing out that the actual evidence seemed to directly contract the sweeping theory they seemingly advanced, making it quite difficult to challenge my arguments without abandoning Lynn’s data and methodology; and these have long constituted the central core of the racialist framework for cross-national IQ studies.

Indeed, some of my critics have already taken this exact route. For example, anthropologist Peter Frost seems to be arguing that almost none of the world’s IQ or even quasi-IQ data (PISA, Wordsum) is reliable enough for us to draw any ethnic conclusions whatsoever— we jus’ don’ know nuthin’—a position which would seem to place him very close to the Gouldians in ultimate conclusions.

My own position is far less extreme, and also less conclusive than Antrosio’s sweeping appraisal. I am merely arguing that there seems overwhelming evidence against the “Strong IQ Hypothesis,” but also admitting that a “Weak IQ Hypothesis”—which suggests a much more limited genetic influence upon IQ—remains perfectly consistent with all the available evidence, whether or not it actually happens to be true.

Consider once again the telling case of Ireland—English-speaking, culturally and socio-economically West European, and located right next door to Britain, which had controlled it for many centuries. Based on Lynn’s research, there seems overwhelming evidence that the Irish IQ was nearly a full standard deviation lower than the British IQ around 1970, but has now seemingly converged, at least based on PISA results and per capita GDPs, representating a rate of change totally absurd from any genetic or plausibly biological perspective. Furthermore, this pattern of rapid convergence is supported by quite a number of intermediate IQ scores during intervening decades provided by Lynn, and is also totally consistent with the above-average IQs of (self-identified) Irish-Americans.

None of this proves that the Irish and British have precisely the same innate potential IQ. Perhaps the Irish are a bit brighter than the British, or perhaps they are a bit dimmer, and presumably this could be determined by various types of exhaustively controlled experiments. But it seems extremely unlikely that such innate differences—if they do exist—accounted for more than a small fraction of the vast 13 point IQ gap which just recently separated the two populations. Some other external factor, very possibly huge differences in urbanization, was the probable explanation.

Similar, though somewhat less extreme evidence of relatively rapid changes in tested IQ apply to many other major European peoples, such as the South Italians, Greeks, South Slavs, Germans, and Dutch, changes which also seem highly unlikely to have a primarily biological explanation. If South Italians and Greeks are far dimmer than the Dutch in Europe, but far brighter in America, while this same exact reversal occurs between South Slavs and Germans in those two locations, genetic factors hardly seem the most plausible explanation. And if “environmental” factors of whatever type can account for such huge differences between separated populations which are relatively close in culture and socio-economic conditions, we should be quite cautious in quickly affixing a genetic or biological explanation to Lynn’s often small and perhaps unrepresentative IQ samples from desperately impoverished Third World countries such as the Congo, Ethiopia, or Bangladesh.

Thus, I am hardly ruling out all possible genetic or biological explanations for IQ differences, but merely arguing that these usually seem far smaller than Lynn and his ardent admirers appear to believe, especially in those cases—such as among relatively affluent European populations—in which our actual data seems most solid and reliable, and least likely to be heavily distorted by horrific levels of physical and cultural deprivation.

Obviously, such nuances in my analysis are hardly recognized by the throng of angry “Lynnists” found all around the Internet, for whom a biological explanation of IQ seems like an all or nothing matter. For example, one racialist blogsite has now published almost a dozen separate posts on my article, attracting a vast number of angry comments and commenters. The latest, which focused once again on the contentious issue of Irish IQ, has already attracted almost 100 comments, some more useful than others.  Jason Malloy, a prominent IQ commenter, claims to have personally reviewed the huge 1972 study suggesting a very low Irish IQ, and judged it well done and seemingly quite reliable. Meanwhile, a particularly “excitable” commenter slurred Lynn as obviously being a fanatic anti-Irish bigot, whose KKK- or Nazi-style hatred of the Irish rendered his Irish conclusions worthless; but the same good fellow seems to still totally accept all of Lynn’s similar research results for non-white populations.

Finally, I was very pleased to see a lengthy and excellent discussion of my article by Ron Bailey, the science correspondent for Reason Magazine, America’s leading libertarian publication. While I’m obviously gratified to receive such a vast outpouring of (admittedly rather hostile) attention on somewhat obscure racialist blogsites, I’m also hoping that my arguments will eventually begin reaching a broader audience as well, and certainly the coverage in Reason.com is an important step in this direction.  And I was also pleased to see another another lengthy overview of the dispute by Tom Schoenfeld, a neurobiologist whose blog focuses on issues of “Public Science.”

I certainly wouldn’t say the Race/IQ debate is “Game Over,” but at least things do seem to be moving in the right direction.



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