IQ and Race

Thomas Sowell, WND, November 27, 2012

Anyone who has followed the decades-long controversies over the role of genes in IQ scores will recognize the names of the two leading advocates of opposite conclusions on that subject—professor Arthur R. Jensen of the University of California at Berkeley and professor James R. Flynn, an American expatriate at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

What is so unusual in the academic world of today is that professor Flynn’s latest book, “Are We Getting Smarter?” is dedicated to Arthur Jensen, whose integrity he praises, even as he opposes his conclusions. That is what scholarship and science are supposed to be like, but so seldom are.

Professor Jensen, who died recently, is best-known for reopening the age-old controversy about heredity versus environment with his 1969 article titled, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?”

His answer—long since lost in the storms of controversy that followed—was that scholastic achievement could be much improved by different teaching methods, but that these different teaching methods were not likely to change IQ scores much.


But, regardless of what Arthur Jensen actually said, too many in the media, and even in academia, heard what they wanted to hear. He was lumped in with earlier writers who had promoted racial inferiority doctrines that depicted some races as being unable to rise above the level of “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”

These earlier writers from the Progressive era were saying, in effect, that there was a ceiling to the mental potential of some races, while Jensen argued that there was no ceiling but, by his reading of the evidence, a difference in average IQ, influenced by genes.

When I first read Arthur Jensen’s landmark article, back in 1969, I was struck by his careful and painstaking analysis of a wide range of complex data. It impressed me but did not convince me. What it did was cause me to dig up more data on my own.

A few years later, I headed a research project that, among other things, collected tens of thousands of past and present IQ scores from a wide range of racial and ethnic groups at schools across the United States. Despite serious limitations in these data, due to constraints of time and circumstances, these data nevertheless threw some additional light on the subject.

A feature article of mine in the Sunday New York Times Magazine of March 27, 1977, pointed out that any number of white groups, here and overseas, had at some point in time had IQs similar to, and in some cases lower than, the IQs of black Americans. During the First World War, for example, white soldiers from some Southern states scored lower on army mental tests than black soldiers from some Northern states.

Professor Jensen read this article and came over to Stanford University to meet with me and discuss the data. That is what a scholar should do when challenged. But the opposite approach was shown by professor Kenneth B. Clark, who earlier had sought to dissuade me from doing IQ research. He said it would “dignify” Jensen’s work, which Clark wanted ignored or discredited instead.

Unfortunately, professor Clark’s ideological approach became far more common in academia, so much so that Jensen’s attempts to speak on campuses around the country provoked dangerous disruptions, instead of reasoned arguments.


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  • Puggg

    A feature article of mine in the Sunday New York Times Magazine of March
    27, 1977, pointed out that any number of white groups, here and
    overseas, had at some point in time had IQs similar to, and in some
    cases lower than, the IQs of black Americans. During the First World
    War, for example, white soldiers from some Southern states scored lower
    on army mental tests than black soldiers from some Northern states.

    You’re comparing a select group of self-selecting people or involuntarily selected people for a given purpose and trying to extrapolate that to all whites vs all blacks. I don’t know if they still do this, but until recently, the military could be picky: Smart whites were steered toward the Navy. It is easy for a white person or a black person who serves in the U.S. Army to believe in racial equality, because the Army appeals to dumber whites and smarter blacks, whose IQs are pretty much on par with each other anyway. This is why there isn’t much of a racial achievement gap on civilian high schools on Army bases — Since their parents have roughly equal IQs, they have roughly equal IQs, and therefore do about as well as each other in school.

    • Or the Air Force. You need higher ASVAB scores to join the Navy or Air Force than the Army.

    • pcmustgo

      interesting observation… yes…

    • JSS

      Your comments about Whites and blacks in the army being of the same intelligence are totally wrong. The overwhelming majority of blacks in the army are clustered in low skill support MOS’s and even in those jobs they generally perform poorly. Jobs that require some intelligence (yes the army has a few of these) or that are dangerous are overwhelmingly White. These Whites are not just as dumb as the blacks who are chronically screwing up their paperwork.

      Pugg I would like to see you go in front of a 90% White airborne infantry company, Apache squadron, artillery battery, Ranger company, counter intelligence or commo section and let them how stupid you think they are.

      Maybe your right that their kids are all stupid, that I have no direct knowledge of. Anyway I met way more racially aware Whites in the army then I have as a civilian. The army is a very “self segregated” organization. It is infested with P.C. but you will find more racially aware Whites in a rifle platoon then in a similar sized group of Whites on a college campus or in an office building.

      You and all the people who gave you a thumbs up are totally mistaken. And while Im a pretty thick skinned person normally I find your insinuation that sense I was a paratrooper getting shot at in Afghanistan and not on a boat mopping a deck somewhere in the ocean myself and my White comrades must be no smarter then a black supply clerk to be offensive.

      • Puggg

        Of course, the whites who actually get to go on the front line and white Army SFs are smarter than the black cooks and black mop floppers and black diversity enforcement personnel. You’re making another apples and oranges comparison.

        Another issue is that there is no draft today and SFs are a self-selecting sample within a self-selecting sample.

        • JSS

          Your words were that the army appeals to dumber Whites and smarter blacks. The same could be said of almost any other job that has positions that range from shuffling papers with zero accountability to shooting people and being shot at or flying attack helicopters where you are held accountable for every little thing you do or fail to do.

          If you had said that most Whites in the army who choose to do the same easy, low accountability jobs as blacks have similar I.Qs to blacks then I would have no problem with your first post. But your first post left out the many, many Whites who do the jobs most blacks won’t and that is in fact where you will find most White soldiers. And in my experience most medics, pilots, commo specialist, artillerymen, infantry, forward observers, etc arent “dumb”. And that’s not even mentioning special forces at all.

          So you did exactly what you say I did. You took a small group of White soldiers who do the same lame, easy jobs as blacks and then said the army appeals to dumber Whites because the smart ones pick the navy or something. As I have shown thats only true if you factor out the jobs most Whites do in fact go into. Anyway I don’t have the numbers on hand and have no inclination to go look for them, but Im pretty certain if you broke down the ASVAB scores by percentage and race in the army you would find the White average to be much higher then the black. Just like everywhere else in life.

    • Frank

      Just what are you using for data? How much service and in what capacity did you serve?

    • Frank

      Where did you get your data? How long and in what capacity did you serve?

  • JohnEngelman

    Thomas Sowell has responded with more civility than the vast majority of blacks and white liberals who have commented on racial differences in IQ. Nevertheless, like them he cannot explain the persistence of the race gap in SAT and ACT scores, and the failure of No Child Left Behind.

    • bluffcreek1967

      Good point sir, and very true.

  • Dan James

    (a) whites/ blacks and test scores on the World War I Army Alpha/Beta
    (b) Flynn
    (c)” re-opening the age old controversy”
    (a) The full 860 page report of the Army Alpha Beta is apparently not under copyright and was published about 1920-21 as “Memoirs of the National Academy of Science, vol. 15” and edited by the director of the Army project, Prof. Robert Yerkes. It is accessible online and has all the test items in it, BTW. But the summary comments about Negro test scores do not lend undue emphasis to what Professor Sowell underscores. The raw fact is that Negro scores overall
    were dramatically lower than overall white scores. Yerkes commented about this in an even- handed way not inappropriate for his time. AR could do worse than to excerpt portiions of these “Memoirs”
    (b) Flynn also in 1990 was among 45 outstanding academics writing letters to the University of Western Ontario supporting the intellectual and scientific integrity of Professor J. Philippe Rushton. But in a 1998 commemorative special edition of the journal INTELLIGENCE a number of academics critical of Jensen’s findings nonetheless contgributed commentary supporting him as a scientist. The MSM just filters all this from public awareness.
    (c) Circumstances arising in the 60’s created tinder for the excellent article, but it seems
    a “bit much” to suggest the article “re-opened” the controversy. The indicators of an
    evolved, biologically-rooted IQ racial gap have been persistently noted within the ranks
    of science, if much more in whisper than in assertion.

  • LHathaway

    Education CAN raise IQ scores. Certain groups, however, PREFER to wallow in ignorant and racist behavior and thought patterns. They find pleasure in it. IQ scores can detect education and also ignorance.

    • george00

      “Education CAN raise IQ scores.” But only to the level of their innate capacity.
      Good nutrition can raise IQ scores but only to the level of their innate capacity.

      • Franklin Ryckaert

        Education and nutrition are both part of “nurture”. Nurture can never cross the boundaries set by “nature”.

        • george00

          That’s what I said.

    • Joseph

      Knowledge can be accumulated and analytical strategies can be learned to optimize the efficiency of thinking up to a point but intelligence, ultimately, is a physiological limitation not subject to acquisition.

      You will never teach statistics to your dog.

      The “unlearnable” aspect is what really defines intelligence per-se and is
      why there have been various systems devised to measure “I.Q.” independent
      of experience and knowledge. They are imperfect tools and the
      imperfection is one of the reasons that they can be nudged a few points
      by teaching strategies.

      The naysayers use the fact that they are not perfectly independent of environmental influence as proof that such tests have no validity whatever at gauging this innate ability but then, they live in a world where anything is possible if we only gave enough money to the government to redistribute, typically to those at the low end of the distribution curve.

    • markinla

      Lots of things can raise IQ scores such as reading more or working at an academic pursuit longer per day than the next guy. This is why middle level IQ people can be fabulously successful. However, to succeed with a low IQ may require so much studying that school just isn’t the best place for you. You might be better off as an HVAC repair guy being conscientious and honest so you never have to worry about getting work.

  • AutomaticSlim

    All the analysis of IQ scores of blacks and Whites, both past and present, pales when considering the fact that Whites in every country except for maybe Albania and Bosnia (both muslim) have built thriving first world societies for themselves, whereas blacks, when left to their own devices, are still at the technological level of mud and dung huts.

    I realize that Sowell is a “rare” black who is both conservative and fairly intelligent, but he is basically a genetic freak. 99.9% of his people are simply not genetically capable of achieving his level of understanding. He is as much an alien to them as we are.

    • JackKrak

      Agreed, but just one bone to pick. Sowell is well beyond “fairly” intelligent – the man is a stone cold intellectual giant who would put 90% of whites to shame in battle of wits.
      That’s where the “freak” part comes in….

      • Ed_NY

        There are exceptions to every rule and obviously Sowell is the exception.

        • AutomaticSlim

          I would agree as long as you are merely making an analogy.

          Yes, Sowell is to the average black what Galileo/Newton/Einstein/Fermi/Hawkings are to the average White, but Sowell is NOWHERE near those giants. No black is genetically capable of that level of achievement. Not even close.

          I would say the best that the most intelligent black (less than .1% of them) can hope for is to be about that same intelligence as a somewhat gifted to gifted White.

          • Ed_NY

            AutoSlim, yes, I was simply making an anology. I meant it exactly as you stated. Their best and brightest can not hold a candle to our best and brightest.

        • Joseph


      • AutomaticSlim

        90th percentile?
        You would put him that high?

  • David Ashton

    Leave “Uncle” Tom Sowell alone. He helps much more than he hinders.

  • Blacks have a quite lower mean native IQ but also a greater ability to channel psychic entities to get beyond their mere natural-born abilities. Actually they are naturally endowed with most paranormal powers many try to achieve through yoga. But having those paranormal powers is a moral catastrophe, witness the poverty and moral corruption through witchcraft of most Black societies and also of East Indian ones (including the pure Aryan ones), for the great majority who don’t have the required spiritual maturity at the beginning, of life as in the case of Blacks, or of kundalini awakening as in the case of yogis. Sowell, as quite a few successful Blacks, had the spiritual maturity to choose to channel a high-IQ rather than a high-getting or money-getting entity. What Blacks need badly is good religion requiring work on oneself.