Should Research on Race and IQ Be Banned?

John Horgan, Scientific American, May 16, 2013

The old issue of genes, race and intelligence has exploded once again. The trigger this time is social scientist Jason Richwine, who recently co-authored a study of immigration for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. {snip}

After the study’s release, The Washington Post reported that Richwine asserted in his 2009 Harvard Ph.D. thesis, “IQ and Immigration Policy,” that the average IQ of U.S. immigrants “is substantially lower than that of the white native population.” Arguing that “the totality of the evidence suggests a genetic component to group differences in IQ,” Richwine added, “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.” {snip}

So there it is, a neo-eugenics program, proposed by a Harvard-minted scholar employed by a prominent think tank. {snip}

Some pundits applauded Richwine’s downfall and attacked his Harvard research. I especially like how The Atlantic blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates compiled historical evidence that race is more a social than biological phenomenon. {snip} Journalist Andrew Sullivan says that the “effective firing” of Richwine “should immediately send up red flags about intellectual freedom.”

These are the same sorts of things said in 1994 when Harvard researchers Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray argued in The Bell Curve that programs to boost black academic performance might be futile because blacks are innately less intelligent than whites; and in 2007 when geneticist and Nobel laureate James Watson ascribed Africa’s social problems to Africans’ genetic inferiority. {snip}

I’m torn over how to respond to research on race and intelligence. Part of me wants to scientifically rebut the IQ-related claims of Herrnstein, Murray, Watson and Richwine. For example, to my mind the single most important finding related to the debate over IQ and heredity is the dramatic rise in IQ scores over the past century. This so-called Flynn effect, which was discovered by psychologist James Flynn, undercuts claims that intelligence stems primarily from nature and not nurture.

But another part of me wonders whether research on race and intelligence—given the persistence of racism in the U.S. and elsewhere–should simply be banned. I don’t say this lightly. For the most part, I am a hard-core defender of freedom of speech and science. But research on race and intelligence—no matter what its conclusions are—seems to me to have no redeeming value.

Far from it. The claims of researchers like Murray, Herrnstein and Richwine could easily become self-fulfilling, by bolstering the confirmation bias of racists and by convincing minority children, their parents and teachers that the children are innately, immutably inferior.

Why, given all the world’s problems and needs, would someone choose to investigate this thesis? What good could come of it? Are we really going to base policies on immigration, education and other social programs on allegedly innate racial differences? {snip}

Perhaps instead of arguing over the evidence for or against theories linking race and IQ we should see them as simply irrelevant to serious intellectual discourse. {snip}

{snip}

Scientists and pundits who insist on recycling racial theories of intelligence portray themselves as courageous defenders of scientific truth. I see them not as heroes but as bullies, picking on those who are already getting a raw deal in our society. It’s time to put these destructive theories to rest once and for all.

{snip}

*Clarification: Some readers may wonder what I mean by “ban,” so let me spell it out. I envision a federal prohibition against speech or publications supporting racial theories of intelligence. All papers, books and other documents advocating such theories will be burned, deleted or otherwise destroyed. Those who continue espousing such theories either publicly or privately (as determined by monitoring of email, phone calls or other communications) will be detained indefinitely in Guantanamo until or unless a secret tribunal overseen by me says they have expressed sufficient remorse and can be released.

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