Steve Pinker Responds to Ron Unz

American Renaissance, August 6, 2012

Professor Richard Lynn has sent us a June 3 note from Professor Steven Pinker of Harvard to Ron Unz. Professor Pinker told Prof. Lynn that if he wished to circulate the note, it should include the following statement by Professor Pinker:

You’re welcome to circulate it on the condition that you add that I do NOT endorse your theory that cross-national differences in IQ have a genetic cause. It’s not that I would argue that these differences are necessarily 100% environmental, but I remain skeptical on this issue (while maintaining that the debate be fair, open, and accurate – hence my objections to Unz’s characterization).

Hi, Ron,

Interesting piece, and it’s important to engage with these issues. I think your argument has some (fixable) flaws, though. You characterize Lynn as claiming that 100% of the variance in intelligence (within and across groups) is genetic. For example you often describe his position as “determinism,” and the technical sense of a deterministic process is one with probability = 1. That allows you to cite evidence of changes of between-group rankings over time as a refutation of Lynn. But he didn’t make that claim, and so your argument doesn’t work–indeed, is just the kind of straw-manning that Gould was repeatedly guilty of. Say that he claims that half of the variation among groups is genetic (that’s not a bad ballpark for the variation among individuals within a group). Then all of your findings are completely compatible with Lynn–they would pertain to the 50 percent of the variance that is not genetic–and he would still be right that in a world in which all economic, political, and geographic differences were somehow annulled, there would still be substantial differences in the economic and technological fortunes of different countries. Which of course is still an incendiary statement in today’s intellectual climate.

Now, you could make your argument more respectable by reformulating it as follows. IF Lynn’s argument for genetic variance across countries is based SOLELY on the differences in mean tested IQ between countries (together with an extrapolation of the genetic contribution of within-group differences), you could use the existence of non-genetic variation over time to question that inference–viz., by showing that a genetic explanation of the difference in IQ scores is otiose; we already have an environmental cause that is sufficient to account for his data. But saying that historical variation makes the genetic contribution to the crossnational differneces otiose or unnecessary or unparsimonious is different from saying that it refutes such a hypothesis. It only refutes the hypothesis that genetic determination is perfect, which no one except for Gould’s straw enemies believes.

And of course it would have to be true that Lynn had no data supporting a genetic hypothesis (even a partial one) other than the national differences. I haven’t read his book so I don’t know whether that’s fair. In the case of racial differences within the United States, Jensen and Rushton do have additional data, such as that when socioeconomic status, income, education, and the like are all thrown into a regression, the black-white gap doesn’t go away; the fact that the children of black and white couples matched in IQ regress to different means; and others. This is not to endorse their arguments, just to say that if Lynn has similar ancillary data (other than the existence of variation) then your arguments are not enough to prove that the genetic contribution to group differences is 0; all you’ve shown is that it’s less than 100 percent, which Lynn has always acknowledged.

A few other points:

-You may want to give Tom Sowell credit for making this argument first, in several books, including Race and Culture, and the second edition of Intellectuals and Society.

-You write as if Lynn were a well-respected psychologist whose findings have been widely accepted. This is very far from the case. Outside the circle of a handful of bloggers and behavioral geneticists he is somewhere between obscure and radioactive. (I believe several of his books are either self-published or put out by fringe publishers.) This is not to say that such a reputation is deserved or not, but it would be a mistake to imply that you’re arguing against a widely accepted hypothesis — Lynn’s hypothesis is anathema to 99.99% of psychologists and, for that matter, academics.

-You suggest that the evidence for a genetic contribution to variance within groups (as opposed to between groups) is based solely on a small sample of monozygotic twins reared apart. This is not true. It is based on a vast amount of data, including comparisons of identical and fraternal twins reared together, comparisons of biological versus adopted siblings, studies of full- versus half-siblings, studies of inbreeding depression, and other data. Many of these samples are enormous, coming from countries that administer IQ tests to every schoolchild and draftee and make the data available to researchers.

Despite these caveats in your argument, I don’t disagree with the conclusion. But I think you need to firm up the argument and attributions. Thanks for sharing it,

Steve

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  • The IQ discrepancy between blacks and whites is made apparent by the left when applied to individuals scheduled for execution. 

    Case in point: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/05/texas-death-row-mentally-retarded

    Texas set to execute death row inmate diagnosed as ‘mentally retarded’

  • anmpr1

    Unbelievable.  When someone who really wants to agree with Unz, and hopes Unz is correct, has to explain the problems in Unz’s arguments, and then goes to great length to distance himself from the conclusions of professor Lynn, it shows not only how poor Unz’s work is, but just how “radioactive” (Pinker’s word) the topic is.  I give Professor Pinker some credit for facing this unpleasant (for him) fact, though. 

    The truth is that the disagreements are political and ideological, and not really scientific at all.  Unz, and (to use Pinker’s figure) 99.99% of academia, would really like to believe that if only Mexicans (or blacks) can have a free school lunch, drink a glass of fortified milk, are given a free laptop, and then be allowed to take some advanced placement courses with white kids and Asians, they will be able to environmentally “absorb” what is in effect an alien agenda for them.  And in spite of billions of dollars, and decades of social engineering, it has not happened.  So these true believers continue to challenge reality with lame arguments, bogus explanations, and ignore what is obvious to anyone with a truly open mind. 

    In the meantime, the few people who attempt a reasonable explanation are branded as racists, or worse.  In the 1920s someone such as Lothrop Stoddard could write about this openly and freely.  Now, for whatever reason, it is all taboo.  Good to know we are evolving.

    • Oil Can Harry

      I may be overly charitable, but Pinker strikes me as a liberal Harvard professor who’s taking baby steps toward race realism.

      He grew up in a traditional leftist milieu where it was believed that all the races are interchangeable and human beings are just a blank slate whose hearts and minds can be molded by social engineers.

      Pinker slowly came around to realize this was p.c. baloney and I hope he eventually follows his arguments to their logical conclusion by becoming a race realist. 

  • Sherman Ackerson

    That’s all that needs to be said.  Well done!

  • JohnEngelman

    Professor Richard Lynn has sent us a June 3 note from Professor Steven Pinker of Harvard to Ron Unz. Professor Pinker told Prof. Lynn that if he wished to circulate the note, it should include the following statement by Professor Pinker:
                    
    You’re welcome to circulate it on the condition that you add that I do NOT endorse your theory that cross-national differences in IQ have a genetic cause.            

     – American Renaissance, August 6, 2012                      

    The note by Professor Steven Pinker of Harvard reads like it was motivated by a desire to maintain Professor Pinker’s welcome in faculty lounges at Harvard, and at faculty dinner parties.

  •  I am not seeing skepticism on  Pinker’s part relating to black/white differences in this country:

    In the case of racial differences within the United States, Jensen and
    Rushton do have additional data, such as that when socioeconomic status,
    income, education, and the like are all thrown into a regression, the
    black-white gap doesn’t go away; the fact that the children of black and
    white couples matched in IQ regress to different means; and others.

  • Here’s a link to the video from NASA’s operations center as Curiosity lands on Mars. Note the large number of blacks in the video. 

    Why is that? 

    http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/videogallery/index.html?media_id=149948191 

    (At 00:14 you see a guy with a mohawk haircut.)

    • JohnEngelman

      I saw two Orientals, and several people who may have immigrated from India. I suspect quite a few of those people were born in other countries. 

  • Mr Pinker your a man I hold in the up most esteem, your motivation is nothing but truth and reason, bravo.

  • Sardonicus

    It is the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, that has the phase “All men are created equal” Liberty is the primary focus of our Constitution not equality. I do agree that Dr. Pinker is walking a razor’s edge at Harvard and can’t acknowledge racial differences without losing his job. He has more leeway discussing “Jewish” Intelligence, but not much.