Nature on Race, IQ, and Science Worth Doing

As part of it’s 3-issue celebration of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, Nature is featuring a debate over the question, “Should scientists study race and IQ?”

Here are the for & against articles:

Should scientists study race and IQ? NO: Science and society do not benefit, by Steven Rose

Are there some areas of potential knowledge that scientists should not seek out? Or, if they do, should they keep the knowledge secret, hidden from the hoi polloi? Certainly Francis Bacon, that great theorist of the birth of modern science, thought so. For with knowledge comes power — potentially dangerous power. In his utopian novel The New Atlantis, scholars determined which of their findings were too dangerous to be shared. Modern governments, obsessed with biosecurity, make similar decisions about what can be researched, how, and in what way disseminated. Private companies bind researchers with non-disclosure and confidentiality agreements. Genetic tests for disorders that have no treatment, such as late-stage Alzheimer’s, are often not offered for ethical reasons. As Steven Shapin’s book The Scientific Life documents, the idea of free, untrammelled and publicly-disseminated research, if it ever corresponded to reality, looks distinctly unrealistic today.

To meet the canons of scientific enquiry a research project must meet two criteria….

Should scientists study race and IQ? YES: The scientific truth must be pursued, by Stephen Ceci & Wendy M. Williams

The Soviet Union lost a generation of genetics research to the politicization of science when Trofim Lysenko, director of biology under Joseph Stalin, parlayed his rejection of Mendelian genetics into a powerful political scientific movement. By the late 1920s, Lysenko had denounced academics embracing Mendelian genetics, which some said undermined tenets of Soviet society. His efforts to extinguish ‘harmful’ scientific ideas ruined opponents’ careers and delayed scientific progress.

It is difficult to imagine this situation repeating today, when rival views feed the scientific process, and inquiry and debate trump orthodoxy. Yet the spectre of Lysenkoism lurks in current scientific discourse on gender, race and intelligence…..

~ by Nancy Walton on February 12, 2009.

One Response to “Nature on Race, IQ, and Science Worth Doing”

  1. Interesting comment on Gene Expression criticising Rose’s comments:“Steven Rose: Wrong on the science of race, gender, and intelligence posted by ben g @ 2/17/2009 08:13:00 AMStumbleUpon Toolbar Digg Reddit Ma.gnolia NewsvineIn the latest issue of Nature, competing editorials were written on the proposition that scientists should study race and IQ. Steven Ceci and Wendy Williams argued ‘Yes’, and Steven Rose argued ‘No’. In this article I will detail the scientific errors which underly Rose’s argument. The scientific reasons offered by him are largely a veneer meant to justify his “radical science” political views, but I will refrain from commenting on his politics until my next post on this.Rose argues: the categories of intelligence, race and gender are not definable within the framework required for natural scientific research, failing my first criterion of being well-founded. They also fail the second criterion of being answerable: we lack the theoretical or technical tools to study them.Let’s begin with his critiques of IQ: to try to capture the many forms of socially expressed intelligent behaviour in a single coefficient — and to rank an entire population in a linear mode, like soldiers on parade lined up by height — excludes most richly intelligent human activities. Social intelligence, emotional intelligence, the intelligent hands of the craftsman or the intelligent intuition of the scientist all elude the ‘g’ straightjacketModern psychometrics isn’t claiming that all of a person’s intelligence is measured by IQ or g. IQ is used because of its strong and reliable correlations with educational and economic performance, independent of class and race. Group comparisons of IQ are even more problematic. Attempts have been made to make ‘culture-fair’ or ‘culture-free’ tests, as if such a thing were possible, to allow comparisons of ‘g’ between people from very different societies. Rose doesn’t understand what is meant by “culture fair.” It doesn’t mean that the test prevents someone’s culture from having an effect on their IQ score. Rather, it means that culture does not effect the test’s predictive validity. And that is indeed the case. Worldwide the correlations between IQ and economic/educational success are high.Rose goes on to critique the concept of biological race: As for ‘race’, the problem is whether it is a biologically, as opposed to socially, meaningful category. Among geneticists interested in differences in gene frequencies between populations, there is increasing consensus that the word obscures more than it reveals, and should be replaced by the concept of biogeographic ancestry, which makes possible the study of subpopulations for relevant genetic and phenotypic characteristics… Broad divisions between ‘white’ or ‘Caucasian’ and ‘black’ or ‘Asian’, the groups generally discussed in the context of the IQ debate, especially in the United States, hide genetically important subpopulation differences within these groups.To begin with, it is biologically meaningful to talk of the ‘white race’ or the ‘asian race.’ These categories encapsulate a great deal of genetic variation, and are not arbitrary; as Steve Sailer has pointed out, Cavalli-Sforza’s principal components map corresponds to social categories of race.Furthermore, discussing higher level categories does nothing to obscure lower level categories. If I know someone is a Christian, this doesn’t mean I cease to be interested in their denomination. And in fact, psychometricians do study more specific categories than the big 3 races; see for example Jason Malloy’s summary of Lynn’s worldwide psychometric work.As for terminology, it is actually irrelevant whether we refer to population groups by their “race” or their “biogeographic ancestry.” The former has more social and historical baggage, and the latter is more long-winded, but they both point to the same empirical fact– group-based genetic differences.Lastly, the IQ differences between blacks, whites, and asians interest researchers so much simply because the differences in educational/economic outcomes between these groups interest researchers (and the public) more than other group-based differences.Rose moves on to gender: the crucial question is whether it is possible to identify a biological — presumably genetic or neurodevelopmental — cause to any difference in the way men and women think and act. The problem is that from the moment of birth, boys and girls are treated differently, which shapes both their growing bodies and brains and how they are expected to behave… Thus, although there are minor average structural and biochemical variations between Western men’s and women’s brains (such as the volume of some nuclei and the distribution of hormone receptors), speculations on their implications for how men and women may think or behave lack any empirical basis.There are plenty of research methods that can be used to sidestep the problems that Rose raises here. To name a few, we can look at: kids raised as the opposite gender because of botched genital operations, how hormones correlate with various behaviors, the differences between girl or boy babies in their first months of life, human universals, etc.Rose closes up the “scientific” portion of his article by citing many of the difficulties which prevent the resolution of the race and IQ debate: The standard approach of population biologists to estimating the potential genetic contribution to a trait is to make a heritability estimate. Whatever the strengths and weaknesses of this measure within a population, it is essentially just that: a within-population measure, only valid for a given environment. The nature of the equations means that if the environment changes, the heritability estimate changes too…Even if reliable correlations were found between some intelligence test score and a measure of brain physiology or activity held by a specific group, such a correlation says nothing about the direction of causation.This is an argument for more research, not less. This is an argument for genome-wide association studies, which will allow us to pinpoint the genes that effect intelligence and how they interact with the enviornment. This is an argument for more research on the neuroscience behind IQ and intelligence. This is an argument for further funding of projects to map out the genetic differences between human populations world-wide. This is not an argument for cutting off an important (albeit, politically inconvenient) avenue of science.”

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