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May. 4 2010 - 9:25 am | 16,260 views | 4 recommendations | 92 comments

At Harvard, Intellectualism is the New Hood to Hide Behind

Harvard Law School

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I don’t know exactly when it became socially unacceptable to harbor racist beliefs, but I know that — at least up north — we’ve been here for a while. Because prejudging a person based solely on the color of their skin is so out of fashion, people who have racist thoughts usually try to hide them from the public view of polite society.

People with controversial views about race don’t want to hide, of course. They think that if they could just explain their point, openly and honestly, everybody would agree with them. Hell, some of these people even think that the minorities they’re insulting would agree with them if minorities could just be honest with themselves. The hubris is astounding. But it’s why the right loves a guy like Clarence Thomas. He’s a walking, talking confirmation that anybody can harbor racist beliefs, if they just try hard enough.There are some people who believe that from behind the veil of ignorance, most black people would end up like Clayton Bixby.

But like I said, it’s impolite to openly espouse racist beliefs. And so society has provided a new, hi-tech method of expressing these thoughts, while still giving people the cover they need in order to function in society: the question.

Now you might think that only a lunatic like Glenn Beck would try to hide racism in “I’m just asking questions” rhetoric and think he’s getting away with it. But you’d be wrong. Last week, this method of racial insult made it all the way to Harvard Law School…

Last week, an email containing a manifestly racist question — intended for the private consumption of a few friends — went public. Then it went viral. We picked it up on Above the Law. The email garnered national attention because the it was sent by an educated and accomplished Harvard Law student. Here’s the pertinent part of the email:

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don’t think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level.

I’m not even going to begin to get into the substance of this question. You can’t academically debate a question where every single premise is flawed and poorly (or flat out incorrectly) defined. If you really think that it is “possible” that African-Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level than any other race,  I sincerely urge you to help yourself to a science book.  Please come up with working definitions of “intelligence,” “genetics,” and the difference between “red hair,” red herrings, and human intellectual capacity. Then tell me who the hell you’re talking about when you say African-Americans. I’ll not waste my time arguing with people who won’t even put forth the effort to understand basic evolutionary biology, yet want me to take a CAT Scan to satisfy their curiosity.

I will deal with the coverage of this story. After Above the Law ran the email, the story was picked up by Gawker, the Boston Globe, the National Review, the Huffington Post, and simply every legal blog I can think of. The debate has centered around not the substance of the email (because again, the actual suggestion proffered in it is absurd — does this person have any idea how long it takes for evolution to act upon an organ like the brain?) but on whether asking the question is itself racist.

Many commentators said that the question was “not racist” and therefore appropriate in an academic setting. Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA and a legal scholar that I respect (though often disagree with) said this:

One should not rule out possibilities in the absence of conclusive evidence, for the simple reason that one then has no factual basis to rule out those possibilities…

Now some claims may be so contrary to our current understanding of the world that we might say something like this: We shouldn’t rule out the possibility in principle, but in practice the probability is so vanishingly small that we should exclude it from our analysis. That, for instance, might be one’s view about claims that werewolves exist. First, it’s just hard to imagine, given current science, what possible mechanism there might be that would turn humans into wolves every full moon. Second, one would think that if werewolves existed, we’d have good evidence of them, since proving their existence would be pretty easy.

But we still know very little about which genes produce intelligence, how exactly those genes operate, and even how intelligence can be defined. We obviously have vastly more left to learn about this.

via The Volokh Conspiracy

My own managing editor, David Lat, whom I’ve worked closely with for almost two years now, offered a similar opinion:

Let me play devil’s advocate for a second…. If we accept “race” as a biological concept — which I realize is questionable, becoming diluted through intermarriage, etc. — is it really so insane to suggest that some races might, ON AVERAGE, possess certain qualities to a greater or lesser degree than other races?

For example, would it be racist to say that, ON AVERAGE, African-Americans are taller than Asian-Americans? Or that Caucasians are more likely to have blond hair than Asian-Americans? Or is the issue that we don’t think intelligence is at all tied to genetics?

via Above the Law

Many people supported these viewpoints. In an Above the Law poll, 57% of respondents said that the initial email was not racist.

It’s disappointing that so many people think it’s possible that something as basic as human intellectual capacity can be influenced by something as fleeting as skin color.  It’s disappointing that so many people want to believe it’s a fair question for academic inquiry. It’s disappointing that so many people are waiting for science to prove a negative, and simply won’t “rule anything out” until it does.

The fact that all men are created equal is not debatable, it is “self-evident.” To formulate the question in your mind, you have to be open to the possibility that an entire race of humans might just be intellectually inferior to an entire other race of humans. We have a word for people who think it is even possible for one race to be inferior to another.

Look at the convoluted knots the above commentators are tying themselves into to make the question sound plausible. Volokh is saying that the question is reasonable for academic debate since it’s not as improbable as the existence of werewolves. Is that the new standard for the world’s top universities? Lat’s telling us that anecdotal observation of height among different populations suggests an open academic question as to whether an entire ethnic group of humans is genetically dumber than some other ethnic group.

And yet I’m the non-intellectual in the room if I think the question is racist? I’m the one standing against serious academic inquiry because I’m saying “blacks might be genetically dumber than whites” is just as stupid as saying  “Yao Ming can only be killed by a silver bullet”?

Is it not textbook racism to believe one race to have immutable characteristics that make them substantively inferior to another race?

White people really, really piss me off sometimes. But I’m not open to the possibility that white people have a genetic predilection for oppressing others, raping the Earth, and hoarding wealth. I don’t dismiss the possibility because I’m unwilling to engage in vigorous academic debate, I dismiss the possibility because I’m not a goddamn idiot.

Now, is it possible to debate racist beliefs in an academic environment? Sure. Why not. If I ever had Louis Farrakhan or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a class about human evolutionary biology, I’d freaking destroy them.

But don’t tell yourself that by virtue of asking a question in an academic manner and setting means you are engaged in anything approaching intellectualism. The question format isn’t a prophylactic against ugly, demeaning and racist statements. “Are gay people more likely to rape children?” Ugly. “Are women too emotional to engage in rigorous logical thought?” Demeaning. “Is it possible that Latinos need more sleep, on average, than the Japanese who appear to be able to work like robots?” Ugly, demeaning, and racist to two races at the same time.

For some reason, the people defending this student have lost faith in the power of deductive logic — but apparently only when the subject turns to race and intelligence. Science doesn’t have to prove or disprove every inane theory a person can articulate. Our shared human ability to reason far outstrips our scientific ability to explain. A common example of that ability is our Theory of Gravity. Our best scientists still can’t explain precisely what gravity is, or exactly why it’s so powerful over long distances yet so weak that living organisms with a fraction of the mass of our Earth can easily overcome it long enough to dunk a basketball. “We obviously have vastly more to learn about this.” Is it possible that people who can dunk a basketball have brains that emit a special electromagnetic pulse that allows them to repulse from the Earth more easily than people (like me) who can’t dunk?

Thanks to deductive logic, I don’t need to know everything about gravity or everything about physics or everything about how the brain works to know that the human brain cannot make me fly. I can dismiss the possibility outright. Some questions are just dumb.

It’s the height of intellectual laziness to throw out a poorly conceived, stupid question and yet hide under the apron strings of “honest debate” when somebody tells you that the premise of your question is flawed and offensive. At the Harvard I went to, intellectualism wasn’t something we were taught to hide behind. Debate was not the appropriate forum to expose ignorance. Every student that has ever gotten into Harvard has learned the value of homework. You came to class, prepared, or you kept your mouth shut when adults were talking. This ridiculous universe where even questions from the slow witted and lazy are respected under the guise of academic debate doesn’t exist.

It pains me to see so many people trying to twist the free exchange of academic ideas into something that supports not-so-thinly veiled racism. Universities are supposed to be places where people learn to overcome the nascent prejudiced beliefs that they harbor without an iota of hard evidence. Not places where people are rewarded for couching racist beliefs in the language of academia. “Are black people intellectually inferior, genetically, to white people” is not an open scientific question, it’s a competing (and wrong) theory of reality. A reality which presupposes that: A) there could be a subclass of humans living among us, B) I could be one of them, C) As long as we don’t stop people from “asking tough questions,” science may one day “prove” that I’m subhuman.

Is there anything more racist than that?

I don’t know what racial minorities have to do to “prove” that they have the same capacity for human intellect as everyone else. 200 years ago, whites thought we had smaller brains. Today, some are open to the possibility that we’re genetically inferior. 200 years from now, I’m sure there will be some other ridiculous bastardization of science people go with. Maybe they’ll find that blacks don’t have as many dark matter particles energizing the electrons in their fingernails. Who knows? I’ve given up trying to anticipate how people will insult me and my entire race next.

While the reasons change, the fundamental racist insult never does. There will always be people who look at the color of another man’s skin and assign some kind of meaning to it, beyond the simple concentration of pigment.

The silver lining is that the people who hold these beliefs still can’t actually manage to hide the racist overtones in polite society. They can dress it up as science and biology. They can cloak it in the sphere of academic debate. They can phrase their answer in the form of a question. But at the end of the day, either you believe in fundamental human equality or you don’t.

Throughout history there have been a long line of people that have resisted the theory of fundamental human equality. But history favors those who embrace equality, not those who keep trying to find an intellectual way around it.


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  1. collapse expand

    Great piece and one that needed to be written. That the Above the Law poll results are disappointing, as you so politely put it, is an understatement. We have an astonishingly long way to go when it comes to issues of race in this society. I was struck recently by The New York Times Tea Party poll. Nearly one in five people said they just didn’t like the president but could give no reason why. Of course, it had nothing to do with race. Too often, academics spend their time tut-tutting about whether there are “qualified” candidates who aren’t white for a position. That, of course, has nothing to do with race either.

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    Excellent piece.

    I was reading the comments on Above the Law, and it is just very discouraging. I can just imagine some of the commenters who are defending the e-mail screaming and stamping their feet, whining “Don’t take my thinly veiled racism away!”

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    I agree with the spirit of your article, but you don’t do a lot to prove your point. A lot of it boils down to “This theory is dumb because it’s dumb.”

    The fact is there could be an on average difference in some vague cognitive trait that makes you better at that IQ test. So, I think going around saying that you shouldn’t consider it because it is racist isn’t going to convince anyone who’s asking.

    What you have to point out is the phenomena they’re describing isn’t actually important in any practical sense. Assuming the cognitive trait in question is a standard deviation away in the two populations (This is according to John Derbyshire, so we can safely assume it’s the most liberal estimation), if you have a white job candidate and a black job candidate, instead of a 50% chance that the black candidate is smarter, there’s a 45% chance.

    So, even if we assume away every rebute to this genetic-IQ relationship like language and economic stature. The only practical way to know who’s the best is by evaluating the individual.

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      Yes, a better response would have been:

      “Since whites first began classifying humanity into distinct ‘races’, the definition, qualification, and even number of said races has changed depending on what was to be gained by the race in power. The concept of ‘race’ is purely social-political.”

      So, in a practical sense: a black job candidate is 50% as like any any other human being on earth to be smarter than a white/other race job candidate. Is that better?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Where have you been? Great Article, Elie! One thing is for damn sure: Attending Harvard Law sure doesn’t earn you a get-out-of-being-a-dumass card.

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    At the heart of this, shouldn’t we also address how race is essentially a social construct? Not to devalue race or the cultural significance we reap from self-identity, but people truly don’t seem to realize that the timeframe we’re talking about, biologically, in which humanity has established different “races” has nothing to do with our concept of intellectualism now. “Race” is a grouping of traits that developed due to differing climates–but the intellectual properties valued at the time have little to do with astrophysics or financial engineering.

    After watching “Faces of America” it really occurs to me that self-identity trumps any genetic reality of race. It is valid to be “African-American” and be of 80% European descent. How can we make generalizations about “African-American” intelligence when the 400 years of it are just a drop in the genetic pool … and more than likely heavily muddied with cross-breeding that most people don’t even realize.

    On that note, I’m getting my DNA tested and I’m holding my breath in anticipation that my genetic code reveals African ancestry. Given my family’s deep Southern roots, I would love be able to send a big “Guess Who’s Black??” valentine to that side of the family. Genetic inheritance is like a love letter from history. It’s a shame that so many people would rather use it to divide us rather than unite us.

    • collapse expand

      I refuse to engage with the substance of the argument, but if I did I would totally agree with you.

      I’d also add that “intelligence” is a largely social construct. People are only talking about this intelligence gap b/c of a standardized test that’s been around for, what 100 years?

      Genetics doesn’t work as fast as some of these “open question” people think, and evolution … I mean come on. Come back to me in 1.8 million years and we’ll see where we are.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        You express your contempt very clearly but you seem unable to muster any arguments that are not based on specious analogies. Your scattered forays into fact-based territories are unconvincing as well. For example, you write:

        “Genetics doesn’t work as fast as some of these ‘open question’ people think, and evolution … I mean come on. Come back to me in 1.8 million years and we’ll see where we are.”

        Here’s an article that discusses recent research into the pace of human evolution:

        “Human evolution in genetic fast lane”


        Excerpt: “In a study published in the Dec. 10 [2007] issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a team led by University of Wisconsin-Madison anthropologist John Hawks estimates that positive selection just in the past 5,000 years alone – around the period of the Stone Age – has occurred at a rate roughly 100 times higher than any other period of human evolution.”

        You seem to have adopted the peculiar worldview that since humanoid species have been around for millions of years, the pace of human brain evolution must also have the same characteristic time scale. I think the balance of scientific evidence says this view is incorrect. You also seem to believe that “race” means skin color and skin color only, and that by virtue of this fact — and your inability to imagine otherwise — it can have no other biological correlate (in particular with cognition). However, the genome for humans of recent African origin differs from other gene pools in numerous biologically significant ways besides skin color. It was, I would argue, a great triumph of modernity to realize that medical studies of disease propensities need to include and to account for different gene pools — i.e. “races” and gender — and that study pools composed solely of white men are inadequate. Using your “logic”, one would argue that these medical studies are a waste of effort, because human evolution acts over millions of years and the idea that racial differences in disease propensity exist is therefore “stupid” — a priori.

        I think that arguing against group differences between and among various gene pools is a losing proposition — especially with the unreasoning, axiomatic approach that you take. Different groups will always have different means and variances. You seem intent on denying this, perhaps as a “first-ditch” effort to expunge “racist” thoughts from our dialogue.

        I propose the real question is “what is just?” That is: is it not the case that our aspirations for justice are summed up in “all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”? This frees us from the unfairness of biology and elevates the discussion to the level of reason.


        In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      So many supposedly smart people have trouble grasping the “race is a social construct” idea, and take it to mean “race is not a real thing, there are no groups of people identifiable by physical markers”.

      “Race” is a grouping of traits that developed due to differing climates

      An alternative theory is that such traits developed due to sexual selection – that is, what different geographically isolated groups found ideosyncratically attractive.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  6. collapse expand


    It seems to me you are, at least in part, so incensed because you equate “less intelligent” with actual inferiority (if there can be any such thing). I agree that this email walks the edge of a very dangerous precipice and the notion of race espoused therein displays an astonishing lack of common sense and history.

    However, there is a big assumption underlying your rant. Why is intelligence a Sacred Cow to you? Why is genetic predisposition towards “intelligence” (whatever that truly means) any more sacred than your predisposition towards weight, height, strength, speed, or eye color? I don’t begrudge you your furor at the email because of the history in this country and I condemn it because of what it could be seen as standing for. The email is astonishingly insensitive, but nowhere do I see the use of the term “inferior.” That is a meaning you imposed sua sponte. My problem is that you stand on “intelligence” as the self evident indication that we are all created equal.

    Who or what is it that determines superiority vs. inferiority? Are Downs Syndrome children “inferior” to children without Downs? (Please, God, don’t accuse me of equating all African Americans with Downs Children) No they are not. American Indians honored Downs children as being “windows to God” because of the simplicity of their spirit. As you rightly point out, they are equally endowed with inalienable rights and inherent human dignity. That, and that alone, is what makes us equal.

    Just because “intelligence” has become the principally valued characteristic of modern man (and great equalizer for the athletically disadvantaged) doesn’t actually make it anything special. Just because you highly value (and tout) your intelligence and scholastic pedigree, doesn’t mean you are “superior” than those who attended third tier schools. You certainly seem to think so some days, but you aren’t.

    I could just as easily accuse you of adopting an attitude that accords inferiority to the mentally challenged or physically handicapped. What if, by process of genetics, a whole population group is discovered to be predisposed to physical or mental disorders, like the Amish? Are they inferior?

    Be upset at the email, but do so for the right reasons and don’t turn it into something its not.

  7. collapse expand

    Elie, I suggest to anyone that wants to debate the substance of the now famous email to watch the Diane Sawyer special titled “Children of the Mountains” about growing up in the Appalachians. When the documentary first aired, it caught many people off guard that there could be such extreme poverty and ignorance in America. I think it was the poverty and ignorance among *white* people that people were shocked at. The documentary is even difficult to watch. I beg anyone to watch that and tell me that “intelligence,” broadly defined as common notions of mental capability and intellect, is not perhaps 97% nurture and and a generous 3% nature.

  8. collapse expand

    I’m reminded of a lesson from a philosophy teacher. If your only support for a claim is that it’s obvious, then it’s not obvious.

    Yes, race is a social construct and hard to define. But if it can be defined well enough that it’s sensical — not necessarily correct, but sensical — to say that one race tends to be taller than another, or more likely to have certain medical problems, then it’s defined well enough to say that a race does or does not tend to have a different distribution of intelligence. If I say “black people tend to be taller than white people”, chances are good that the understand it to mean what I intended it to mean. If I say “black people tend to be shorter than white people”, it’s not wrong because race has no meaning, it’s wrong because the claim doesn’t match reality.

    As for defining intelligence, again, yes, it’s damned hard to define. Probably harder than race. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and can’t be studied. Any teacher has presumably seen some students very easily learn what others struggle with. “Some students are more intelligent” is a comprehensible statement; we have a useful definition of the term even if it isn’t precise enough to quantify. Do you want to know why some students are more intelligent than others? You won’t if you insist that the question is meaningless.

    • collapse expand

      One “race” may be taller than another due to environmental factors like nutrition and activity. Infact, that is more than likely the cause when comparing broad racial categories.

      Why do people feel it necessary to attribute every discernable difference between individuals to genetics, and then make racist generalizations about it? Why defend such behaviour? Why be convinced that some are simply “naturally” inferior, instead of focusing on improving environmental influences?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  9. collapse expand


    Interesting post. The one thing I find interesting that has not received a lot of discussion is this assumption people have about the connection between intelligence and “worth” as a human being. In your article, for example, you say that

    “The fact that all men are created equal is not debatable, it is ’self-evident…’ We have a word for people who think it is even possible for one race to be inferior to another: Racist.”

    The thing I find interesting is this inherent connection between intelligence and worth or inferiority. When the founders said that all men are created equal, they were obviously not saying that all men were created equally intelligent. Rather, despite the variation in intelligence, strength, charisma, looks, etc. they were all created by their creator equal in intrinsic value.

    I am certainly less intelligent than President Obama but that does not mean I have less “worth” or that he is a better person that I am (well, he probably is a better person than I am, but that’s for different reasons). There is a vast range of IQ’s of people across this country and across the world. But, I don’t think it makes sense to order people’s worth based on their score on an IQ test.

    I just find it interesting that the discussion of variations in intelligence immediately causes people to talk about differences in value as human beings. Perhaps it is a product of the fact that most people discussing this issue are highly educated, graduates of top level legal and other institutions, and value intelligence so highly that in their mind, even subconsciously, intelligence IS a reflection of value as a human being.

    Just to be clear, I am not defending the original poster’s email nor do I believe that it is possible for one race to be, on the whole, genetically less intelligent than another.

    However, some individuals are certainly more intelligent than others. But, variations in intelligent by no means equate with variations in value as human beings.

    Questioning whether one race is genetically less intelligent than another is a stupid, dangerous question to ask. Assuming that people who are less intelligent are less valuable is equally dangerous I think.

  10. collapse expand

    Elie, are you saying there’s no genetic basis for race?

  11. collapse expand

    I find lat’s comments almost as offensive as the original e-mail. What is wrong with that guy?

  12. collapse expand

    “If you really think that it is ‘possible’ that African-Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level than any other race, I sincerely urge you to help yourself to a science book.”

    I’d like a reference to that science book please.

    Where can I find a single credible peer reviewed paper (never mind a book) that claims to demonstrate that it is ‘impossible’ that African-Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level?

    I’ve always taken the nurture side of the nature vs. nurture debate. But it sickens me to see you equate mere participation in that debate with racism.

  13. collapse expand

    Elie, your view of genetics is simply off. In your article you rhetorically ask, “Is it not textbook racism to believe one race to have immutable characteristics that make them substantively inferior to another race?”

    The answer to that question is of course yes, but not for the reasons you are thinking of. The Human Genome Project concluded that there is no genetic basis for race. The layman version of the text is as follows:

    DNA studies do not indicate that separate classifiable subspecies (races) exist within modern humans. While different genes for physical traits such as skin and hair color can be identified between individuals, no consistent patterns of genes across the human genome exist to distinguish one race from another. There also is no genetic basis for divisions of human ethnicity. People who have lived in the same geographic region for many generations may have some alleles in common, but no allele will be found in all members of one population and in no members of any other.

    But just because race has no genetic basis does not mean that certain sub-population of the human species may contain certain genetic traits on the whole more often than other subpopulations. For instance, it’s well-known that Ashkenazi Jews contain alleles for Tay-Sachs on the whole more frequently than the general population. But this has nothing to do with someone’s “inherent Jewness.” Rather it is probably the result of this sub-population historically living in an environment where, due to natural selection, the alleles responsible for Tay-Sachs were beneficial as well as the tendency for Jews historically and today to some extent procreate with other Jews. The same could be true for those of African descent and intelligence. It is entirely possible that African-Americans on the whole have genes that are associated with increased intelligence compared to whites but measure poorly due to overwhelming inequities in living conditions and “biased testing methods.” It is also possible as the Harvard E-Mail states that whites on the whole possess genes that are responsible for higher intelligence (however we define that). Regardless of however the genetic-intelligence comparisons plays out, we do know that because there is no genetic basis for race, there is no reason to believe that these tendencies are unchangeable if the environment and mating patterns change.

    Lastly, there is a widely mistaken belief that if one group has genes that make them on the whole more intelligent than one another that this is the launchpad for a new wave of racial superiority claims. Geneticists will tell you that moral judgments on superiority must be contained to the environment. For example in the US being a carrier for sickle-cell anemia is less desirable than have two normal alleles for hemoglobin because you are more likely to suffer health complications due to your carrier status. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, being a carrier for sickle-cell anemia is linked to increased resistance to malaria, which is very lethal and it’s not that easy to the get the treatment for malaria in SSA. Accordingly, until we locate the gene(s) reponsible for intelligence, it’s impossible to tell whether in United States or around the world being genetically predisposed to being “more intelligent” is a good thing. It’s very possible that genetics plays a minimal part in intelligence but that small advantage bears a pretty large cost.

    • collapse expand

      How can you analogize between Ashkenazi Jews “those of African descent”? One is a specific ethnicity. The other is an entire continent full of hundreds, if not thousands, of ethnicities. And American Blacks are not only descended from Africans, but from whites (probably to a greater degree than is recognized, due to the propensity of slave owners to commit rape), Native Americans, and hispanics.

      This is another thing that gets me about the discussion. Yeah it makes sense to say “Irish people have a higher incidence of red hair” or “Kenyans tend to have their achilles tendon attached in such a way as to allow them to run faster”. It makes no sense to make generalizations about ALL BLACK PEOPLE.

      This type of thinking was also common in the Above the Law comments. I think it’s associated with the tendency of North Americans to think of Africa as an undifferentiated mass, rather than as a continent with a whole bunch of different countries and societies. Such arguments also have an undertone of “all black people look alike” – if all black people share genes for certain physical traits, why is it hard to believe that they share genes for other traits too? …because there are no traits shared among all black people! Not skin colour, not anything! Ethiopians do not look like Nigerians; Senegalese do not look like Zimbabweans.* African Americans often do not actually look like they come from Africa.

      * To the extent that we can categorize people by nationality according to looks; and recognizing that African nationalities do not correspond to ethnicity.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        First, I personally believe it would be a stretch to say that global sub-population (i.e. globally based on religion, race, nationality, etc.) differs significantly in any trait (other than skin pigmentation, hair color, eye color, etc.) genetically. Location probably plays a factor. But it doesn’t have to.

        Second, the analogy between Ashkenazi Jews and those of African descent does hold up. People in different locations of the world, genetically speaking, adapt to their environment in different ways (natural selection) it is entirely possible that those who come from one part of the world or who tend to procreate with a consistent phenotypic discrimination tend to have different genetic traits. Sickle-cell disease traits in Sub-Saharan Africa, a rather large geographic area with “hundreds if not thousands of ethnicities” tend to on the whole have alleles at a higher rate than those not from that region. Given that we don’t know anything about alleles that control for intelligence (or how you’d define such a term) it is entirely possible that

        Additionally, the fact that interracial or interethnic relationships from the past “mixed up the gene pool” does not necessarily affect the statement that ON THE WHOLE a certain group carries a genetic trait more than others. Let me reiterate once again, that in my original post it is possible that this “genetic-intelligence” gap actually favors blacks over whites and that the socioeconomic conditions various races are exposed to affect our measurement of this assessment.

        Hereditary studies pretty much are conclusive that intelligence plays some sort of role in genetics. To suggest that a certain sub-population contains alleles that increase one’s ability to perform on how we measure for intelligence over another sub-population is not out of line. Nor as I said towards the bottom of my post does that make them anyone genetically inferior.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Thank you! Of all “races” that could be analysed, Black Americans, a caste (yes caste) of people who have been defined by the “one drop rule” is the most absurd to make any definitive genetic claims about.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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    It seems to me that the racism from the Harvard email emanates from the author’s use of whites versus African Americans, and the framing of the question, arguably, around having to prove that blacks are as intelligent as whites.

    But Elie, I’m curious whether you think that mere agnosticism on the question of whether there may be genetic differences that cause differences in measurable intelligence in different races is a racist position.

    In addition, I understand that this question itself raises many issues, such as, how is race defined? Is race just a social construct? Undoubtedly, many thoughtful people believe that race is just a social construct. However, other thoughtful people, including scientists in the field of population genetics, come to different conclusions. See http://www.gnxp.com/blog/2007/01/race-current-consensus.php
    Do you think that this issue is a legitimate question of debate? or is it also closed off?

    Lastly, I happen to believe that blacks, i.e. people with African ancestry from the last few thousand years, are probably on balance genetically superior to certain other races. This is because it seems obvious that they are, on average, more athletically (physically) talented, and there is NO evidence that they are less gifted than other races in any other way. Is this view racist? And if it is, isn’t it rather obvious and acceptable?

    • collapse expand

      it seems obvious that they are, on average, more athletically (physically) talented

      At the beginning of the 20th century, professional basketball teams were made up largely of Jews. In Japan, professional athletes tend to be Korean.

      When oppresed minorities are denied upward mobility due to lack of opportunity and discrimination, they tend to be over-represented in the few fields that are available to them – specifically, the entertainment of the dominant majority.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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    Who is this 3L prodigy that everybody seems to give a F**K what he has to say? You say accomplished? He is only one of many attending one of Harvard’s myriad trade schools.

    In Medical school, a 3rd year student is the bottom of the totem pole, student nurses seem to get more respect. Nobody cares what we thought at that time. I doubt law students are much more important. When they get to a white glove legal office or clerking for a judge, they will even be further diminished.

    As somebody above correctly stated, being a Harvard grad student and being a dumbass is not mutually exclusive.

    pH, Harvard ‘64

    • collapse expand

      I think it’s less that people care what she has to say, and more people’s reaction to the fact that someone at one of America’s most esteemed institutions, bound for a career where she will have a great impact on many peoples lives, thought it was a reasonable and acceptable thing to say. And that so many of her peers seem to support her. Her email is very telling of the legal community.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  16. collapse expand

    “It’s disappointing that so many people think it’s possible that something as basic as human intellectual capacity can be influenced by something as fleeting as skin color.”

    That sentence, Ellie, reveals that you don’t really understand a gene-centered view of evolution. The argument being made is that natural selection could favor different genetic traits between two discrete populations living in different environments/cultures/geographies for thousands of years.

    Population A may have greater selection for a cognitive ability to perform quantitative functions than Population B.

    You’re also completely ignorant in your claim that the human brain can’t change through natural selection in the millions of years that humans have existed. It’s important to understand, further, that evolution does not act on the “brain.” Evolution acts on particular genes and groups of genes, and this can have an effect on the way the brains of a population of humans, or a population of ants, functions, and that functioning may be distinguishable in certain respects from a separate population of the same species which evolved in a different environment.

    Basically, my point is, you have no idea what you’re talking about, and you’re mixing up political/social ideas or ideals with way evolution works.

  17. collapse expand

    Someone has already touched on this, but I think it’s pretty funny that you quote the Declaration of Independence as establishing a *scientific* proposition as “self-evident.” (And, as an aside, don’t you think it is a little odd that you are quoting a slave-owner in support of your argument?) In any case, the notion that “all men are created equal” is manifestly false. No two men (or women) are created precisley equal. Some are created smarter, taller, etc. than others. The statement in the Declaration of Independence is basically a feel-good untruth. John Adams pointed this out at the time. All that the document really means is that all men are created with equal worth, dignity, and rights.

    With respect to the question posed by the now-villified emailer, any person who is honest would have to answer: I don’t know. I have now idea whether, from a purely genetic standpoint and controlling for variables of environment, etc., blacks are smarter than whites, vice versa, or there is no genetic difference. I can’t rule any of those possibilities out. The fact that there are numerous other observable genetic differences among races leads me to believe that it is not unlikely that one race might be, on average, more intelligent than another race, controlling for all the other variables that impact intelligence. But there is no practical way to prove or disprove that hypothesis – there are simply too many variables for which it is not practical to control. So I think the only honest answer is: I don’t know. The insistence following the Harvard email that the answer to this question has been proven definitively blinks reality and is the height of excessive political correctness.

    Also, please explain your contention that Clarence Thomas is a racist. I knew that he was a despised figure, but I have never heard this charge before.

    • collapse expand

      All that the document really means is that all men are created with equal worth, dignity, and rights.

      No duh. This is about dignity. Pondering the possible inherent deficiency of a historically, and currently, oppressed minority is reviving the same “logic” that was used to justify their enslavement. That is not just academic musing. That is the insidious expression of internalized racist beliefs.

      The fact that there are numerous other observable genetic differences among races …

      Those are observable genetic differences among people. There are no genetic traits that are either exclusive, or universal to any particular race.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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      False. I’ll let a lot of things go on this thread (I’ve said my peace, everybody deserves to say theirs) but I’m not just going to sit here and listen to you malign the Declaration of Independence.

      The line wasn’t just about worth/dignity/rights. It was also about equal human capacity. And that capacity was crucial b/c the *whole point* of the document was for government “by the people” instead of “by the Monarch/Aristocracy and their special powers given to them by God.”

      Equal human capacity is the “foundation” of our government, not a throw away line put in there because it sounded good.

      If you believe that an entire class of people is not capable of being at the same level as everybody else, than guess what — you can’t let them vote. Jefferson said that an “educated” public was the key to democracy, can you imagine what he would have said if you told him that a subclass “intellectually inferior to everybody else” asked him if they could vote?

      Well, we don’t have to imagine what he (and the other Founders) would have said. Because when faced with exactly this choice, they decided that *half the country* didn’t share in this “self-evident” equality — women. People were so sure that women were incapable of being as intelligent and logical as men, women didn’t get the legal right to vote until *after* negros.

      “Feel good untruth”? It’s central belief of our country. The belief is so ingrained in our politics and our culture that it still defines us even against the other European powers.

      As to you other arguments: If there was an immutable difference in intelligence, don’t you think white people would have found it by now? they’ve only been trying to “prove” it for 600 years or so.

      I don’t think Thomas is a racist. I think he’s self-loathing and holds some prejudiced beliefs.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Elie, why are you tying political ideals to scientific truth? It may be that one American ideal is that all people have “equal human capacity.” But aside from the fact that this is demonstrably not true (people have vastly different physical and perhaps intellectual capacities), why should we take that political assumption to be true? I could start a new country tomorrow founded on the principal that all people with red hair are privileged in society and have special rights. But this would have little to do with the actual capacity (physical and mental) of people with red hair.

        Also, you assert that “[i]f you believe that an entire class of people is not capable of being at the same level of everybody else, then guess what — you can’t let them vote.” My response to this is (1) it’s not an argument for or against the truth of the statement that “an entire class of people is not capable of being at the same level,” merely a prediction about the sociopolitical results of that truth and (2) of course this isn’t true. We as a society could decide to allow certain people to vote, or not. We could have iq voting tests, or not. We could have race-based voting limits, or not. In general, the sociopolitical consequences for such a truth are not inevitable, but rather up to us.

        One final comment: If it is true that science is nearly certain that there is no average race-based difference in iq (and I haven’t done the background reading on this), then I really don’t see the problem with explaining it clearly to someone like DNA girl or referring her to a source that clearly explains it. She sounds like she’s open to rational, scientific research and evidence. Can it really be better to publicly shun someone like this rather than educate her?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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          Science is not some purely rational field of thought unblemmished by politics. Science is political. Ask Copernicus. Ask Darwin – and I don’t mean with regards to creationism. It didn’t take long after The Origin of Species for people to derive “social Darwinism” to justify racism, colonialism, and nazi claims to aryan supremacy.

          “Science” has long been used to justify the oppression of racial minorities, women, homosexuals and disabled people. Science has a bad habit of assuming that contemporary social relations and hierarchies are natural, and then building theories off of that assumption, from craniometry to evolutionary psychology.

          The whole problem with entertaining the possibility that black people are genetically less intelligent than the rest of the population is that it’s not a purely scientific inquuiry; that it implies what many white Americans would like to believe – that racism is no longer a problem in America, and black people are simply held back by their own inherent shortcomings.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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            You really hit the nail on the head. When you start asking “Why do we *only* ask about black people being inferior and not about white people being inferior?” the only answer is that the current order of the world is the model for the theory.

            If the current ‘order of the world’ is the model, then in just 170 years black people have suddenly “evolved” to be much much much smarter as measured by literacy and education. (But, that makes no sense, what really happened was slavery ended and black people fought for the right to live and become educated.)

            Yet, people are still willing to take this current snapshot in time 2010 — where blacks in the US are poorer than whites and don’t live as long and don’t do as well on IQ tests and say “this is what nature intended, this is as good as it get for black people” –as if things could not once again be radically different in 170 years.

            Given the unique ability of my people to evolve to be more intelligence in a small span of time in 170 years black people will be the brains of the planet pulsing neuro-masses hooked up to computers to control the world like some amazing SF move… or… I don’t know maybe (just maybe) this whole notion that the intelligence we see in a snapshot of a population is their “true” capacity is a bunch of hooey.

            You decide!

            In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Marissao, your comments are on track and criticize the email appropriately. As I said previously, the author’s notion of “race” is surprisingly small minded. Further, the insensitivity given this country’s history on the subject is also astonishing.

        Elie, your comments as to “equal human capacity” (as you put it) are just wrong. They don’t even comport with common sense or anyone’s daily experience. What you’re really trying to say is that there is a “minimum achievable standard” of intelligence that all (not most, all) people are capable of attaining if they are just given the opportunity. That’s just not true.

        It is true that the vast majority of people are capable of attaining a certain level of accomplishment given the right educational background. But some people are just brilliant and the rest of us will never be that capable no matter what degree of education we attain, what amount of hard work we apply, or from what socio-economic background we emerge. Conversely, some people just do not have the capacity to attain even that minimum level of capability.

        Intellectual capacity does not equate to worth. Our constitutional rights arise as a factor of inherent human worth, not capacity. It has applied even to the uneducated urban masses or, horror of horrors, ignorant midwestern teabaggers.

        You’re using bad logic to defend your rant instead of just admitting that your position was wrong. I say again, criticize it for the right reason, don’t impose views on the author that she didn’t espouse.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  18. collapse expand

    Elie -

    Your “prove a negative” argument would be pretty good if there was no data on correlations between race and performance on currently intelligence measures. Unfortunately, as I’m sure you are aware, there is a consistent testing gap.

    Thus, the challenge for scientists isn’t to make a prediction about how race relates to performance on current intelligence measures – it’s to explain the existing disparity.

    Your position is that absolutely none of the existing disparity can be attributed to genes. So, you are the one ‘waiting for scientists to prove a negative” – or more precisely, the one assuming science already proved a negative.

    Also, I’m not sure you know the difference between correlation and causation. (Perhaps you should help yourself to a science book). Even if genes explain part of the racial disparity in performance on intelligence measures, that doesn’t lead to the conclusion that “blacks aren’t as intelligent as whites because they are black.” Nor does it rule out the possibility that the disparity could diminish or reverse in the future.

    One last question, about the comment that “there is no genetic basis for race.” I appreciate the point of the “race is a social construct” argument, but I don’t think it was ever intended to be confused with an empirical truth. Example: A black couple gives birth to a child. Will the child more likely have dark skin and hair, or be a “ginger”? If you say the former, is that environmentally determined or socially constructed after the child is born? At least some components of race – like baseline skin pigmentation – are unquestionably influenced by genes. The point of the “race is a social construct” saying is to say many things we in society (often wrongly) associate with race may not have a genetic basis. To say there is no genetic influence at all on race is just absurd.

    • collapse expand

      Example: A black couple gives birth to a child. Will the child more likely have dark skin and hair, or be a “ginger”?

      How do you define “black”? Is it someone with only African ancestors? Or can it include people who identify as black, but have mixed ancestry? If a couple identifies as black, what does that make their blonde, blue-eyed child? When the Irish first came to the USA, they were categorized as “black”.

      There is no genetic basis for race. There are no genes that appear exclusively in one “racial” group. And what of “mixed race” people? Are they raceless? Do they form a new category? Are they grouped with the side they most resemble, regardless of the fact that genetically they may have 50% or more genes from the other side?

      “Hispanic” is now considered a racial category in the United States, despite the fact that it is more of a language/cultural group that includes people of Native South American, African, Spanish, and other European origin.

      What about the people who live where the major racial groups intersect? People of South Eastern Europe, who are the result of centuries of intermingling between Europe and the Near East. Some Persians are pale and look more European than stereotypically Middle Eastern, is their “race” determined by their phenotype or by their geography? My kindergarten teacher looked every bit Chinese, and one of my friends looked like she was a Kazhak or Afghan, but they were both 100% ethnically Ukrainian – does that make them Caucasian?

      In many cases “race” simply does not make sense as an objective category based on physical features.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        Sorry, my language was sloppy, I’ll try to clarify my point.

        I agree that the labels we come up with (“white,” “black,” “Hispanic,” etc.) are social constructs. But our application of these social constructs is informed by a number of clearly genetically-influenced traits — most obviously skin pigmentation, also things like hair color, eye color, etc.

        If intelligence is genetically influenced, then the genes influencing intelligence will be located somewhere in our DNA. Genes influencing intelligence may (or may not) be near genes influencing traits like skin pigmentation, hair color, and eye color. Thus, it’s within the realm of possibility that intelligence weakly correlates with traits like skin pigmentation, hair color, eye color, etc. Because we use these traits to apply our social construct of “race,” there could be a resulitng weak correlation between intelligence and race (as we construct or define it).

        Thus, “race is a social construct” does not answer or dismiss the empirical question of whether there is a correlation between race and intelligence.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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          Sorry, last sentence should read:

          Thus, “race is a social construct” does not answer or dismiss the empirical question of whether there is a *genetically-influenced* correlation between race and intelligence.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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            Vijay Singh…if you didn’t know his name or his country of origin, he would be classified as what? I’m curious, since you say the application of the social construct of race is informed by a number of clearly genetically influenced observable traits.

            What about Barack Obama? Black or white?

            In response to another comment. See in context »
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    After reviewing some of the other comments, I think part of the problem in the dialogue may be that people are using “race” in different ways.

    Do you think there is any possibility of a genetically-influenced correlation in the current population between pigmentation and intelligence? Eye color and intelligence? Handedness and intelligence?

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      Doug Smith,

      It won’t let me reply to you above, so I’ll reply to you here.

      I said genetically-influenced traits inform our application of the social construct “race.” Inform does not mean dictate. I concede that there are many people whose “race” is difficult to identify from appearances. But allow me to pick my own examples:

      Phil Mickelson? LeBron James? Tom Cruise? Dave Chapelle?

      As long as you’d concede there is a correlation between some genetically-influenced factors and how we construct race, my argument holds. Do “white” people, have, on average, lighter skin than “black” people?

      That’s the ridiculous thing about this whole thread. If you concede that a black couple is not likely to have a white, freckle-faced, red-headed child, then you concede *something* about race – or more precisely, our application of the concept of “race’ – is genetically influenced.

      If you concede this, then you’re left with two logical options in the debate: (1) deny there is any genetic influence on intelligence, or (2) to acknowledge it’s possible there are genetically-influenced correlations between race and intelligence.

      Because if you acknowledge that (1) any component of what we call race is genetically influenced – again, the simple correlation between skin pigmentation and identification as “black” and “white” demonstrates there is – and (2) some aspect of intelligence is (or even could be) genetically influenced, then the argument is over. As I stated above, the genes influencing things must be somewhere in your DNA, and their relationship to one another will inform whether or not there is some correlation.

      I’d really like to know which of these two premises Elie disagrees with. Unfortunately, I don’t think he ever got that far in his thinking on the issue.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
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        “Races” as any modern person uses is too crude a term to have any genetic relevance. Black Americans—who have historically been defined by the “one-drop” rule, who range from as dark as ebony to as light as a (“native”) Western European, are the same “race” as sub-Saharan Africans—can now be said to possibly share some kind of measurable intelligence?

        In response to another comment. See in context »
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          I agree that race is used crudely, but my point in the posts above is that this does not make correlations impossible.

          My argument distilled to its most basic form:

          1. It is possible that there are correlations between any two genetically influenced traits.

          2. It is possible that some part of intelligence, as we measure it, is genetically influenced.

          3. It is possible that some part of race, as we define and apply the concept, is genetically influenced.

          C. It is possible that there are correlations between intelligence and “race.”

          The pushback seems to be on the third premise. But people keep attacking the third premise with what I’ll call “the Rebuttal”: “there are huge genetic differences within what we call ‘races.’”

          This observation does nothing to impact the argument above. The premise is not “everything about race is gentically influenced.” The premise is “SOME part” is genetically influenced – meaning some genetically-influenced characteristics (like pigmentation) correlate with race.

          “The Rebuttal” has some substance if we’re hypothesizing/speculating about the *answer* to the empirical question of whether there are genetically-influenced correlations between race and intelligence. But we’re not. At least I’m not.

          “The Rebuttal” does nothing to refute the possibility of such a correlation. We shouldn’t dismiss a possibility because its not palatable, especially on grounds that don’t refute any of the premises in the argument I laid out above.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
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            Here’s my best shot at explaining why a correlation is possible despite all the “race is a social construct” arguments:

            Let’s take race out of it.

            I think (or hope) we can all agree eye color is genetically determined. I think we can all agree performance on intelligence measures is also partially genetically influenced. From these two premises, we can conclude that there *may* be a genitically-influenced correlation between eye color and intelligence, depending on the proximity of genes influencing eye color and genes influencing intelligence in our DNA.

            Now, add an assumption (not one that I take as true – I’m only trying to demonstrate a *POSSIBILITY* here). Let’s assume there IS, in fact, such a correlation: those with brown eyes are, on average, more intelligent than those with blue eyes.

            Reintroduce “race” at this point. A smaller percentage of people we identify as “black” have blue eyes than people we identify as “white.” Thus, there *may* or *may not* be a correlation between “race” and intelligence, resulting from the correlation between eye color and intelligence.

            I think this demonstrates the possibility. That is all I intend to demonstrate. I don’t think there is likely a genetically-influenced correlation between race and intelligence, but I cannot be sure (and neither can anyone else unless they demonstrate a flaw in the argument above).

            In response to another comment. See in context »
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            @ scientist:

            Let’s take your explanation, but replace “race” with “natioality”. Now a smaller percentage of people we identify as “Guatemalan” have blue eyes than people we identify as “Norwegian”. Thus there *may* or *may not* be a correlation between “nationality” and intelligence, resulting from the correlation between eye color and intelligence.

            Do you see how STUPID it is to make any “genetic” claims about a socio-political identity? The only way this could ever make sense is if a person, deep down inside, wants to believe that the way a person looks determines their intelligence, so they will make “best shot” attempts to justify their racism. White people have been doing this since their age of “Enlightenment”—it’s nothing new.

            Nationality, like race is not a static, intrinsic property. 200 years ago, LOTS of Americans that today we call white were not white. Immigrants such as the Irish, Italians, and Polish *became* white. They did not “genetically” alter their DNA to match those of Anglo-Saxon origins, they became accepted as white in contrast to Blacks and other darker skinned Americans. These same people also changed their nationality became “American.”

            So yes, let’s take race out—and KEEP it out.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
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            @ zedster:

            I completely agree with your first paragraph. There could be a correlation between nationality and intelligence, just like there could be a correlation between race and intelligence (incorporating my qualifiers from above).

            But you lose me with the first sentence of your second paragraph: how does this show anything is “STUPID”?

            In fact, I read your first paragraph as conceding the only position I’ve taken: there may be a genetically-influenced correlation between “race” and “intelligence.” (Please tell me if I’m wrong, e.g., the apparent concession was only for the sake of argument). The second paragraph then abruptly transitions into an Elie-style mere-assertion argument that, even though there is an empirical possibility, we (including scientists) should ignore it because it is “stupid” and only makes sense to pursue for racist reasons.

            I have three responses:

            1. This is entirely beyond the scope of my argument, and I don’t think I’ve taken a contrary position. My only point has been that we can’t dismiss the idea of a genetically-influenced correlation between “race” and “intelligence” on the grounds that this is impossible (which Elie and some others seem to want to do). There is clearly an empirical possibility of a genetically-influenced race/intelligence correlation, and the frequently-recited fact that “race is a social construct” does *not* eliminate this possibility (see my arguments above). As far as I’m concerned, other arguments against scientific inquiry in this area — any such genetically-influenced correlation has no practical meaning; its potential cost to society doesn’t justify the inquiry; etc. — are on the table. We just can’t dismiss the hypothesis on the grounds it’s “impossible,” because its NOT impossible. I *think* you agree with this…

            2. That said, I’m nervous about dismissing empirical possibilities because they are politically controversial, or inconsistent with our vision of how the world ought to be.
            If we dismissed every controversial hypothesis, we’d still think the Sun rotates around the Earth. There is a distinction between how the world/universe *is* and how we think it *should* be, and it can be intellectually dangerous to let the latter dictate our view of the former. In my view, absolutely ANY empirical possibility should be subject to fair scientific inquiry. In the end, truth is apolitical. *Steps off soap box.*

            As for you third paragraph, you kicked that straw man’s ass! :)

            In response to another comment. See in context »
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            And when I say I have three responses, I mean I have two responses :)

            In response to another comment. See in context »
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            This is why the premise is stupid:

            Person A is self-identified as race X in the year 2010, a race that some scientists today would like to prove is genetically less “intelligent” than other races. Person A has a certain intelligence that is above average for all races. 200 years ago, Person A would have been socially-identified as race Y, a race that most scientists of that time (and some scientists today) sought to prove is more intelligent than other races. This same person has the same intelligence, same DNA, as they do now. Depending upon how society and an individual conceptualizes race, science, and to a large extent human worth (as “worth” has conveniently correlated with “intelligence” throughout history), Person A could be potentially two different races.

            Now, tell me what’s the genetic correlation between this person’s race and intelligence? And what meaningful information can you get from that?

            In response to another comment. See in context »
  20. collapse expand

    There is no question that ethnoracial groups show substantial differences in IQ-type intelligence, the only real question is whether these differences are entirely due to cultural/environmental differences (the Boasian/environmentalist viewpoint) or whether genetic differences are a major factor (the Galtonian/hereditarian viewpoint).

    Mystal wishes to exclude the Galtonian/hereditarian viewpoint from the realm of respectable academic discourse because Mystal feels that the Galtonian/hereditarian viewpoint is inherently RACIST. Depending upon the exact definition of “racism” one could quible but by and large Mystal is probably correct that the Galtonian/hereditarian viewpoint is at least to some degree inherently racist. But the larger question with regard to the notion that genetic differences account for ethnoracial IQ differences is not whether it is RACIST, but whether it is factually TRUE? Harvard is supposed to be concerned with pursuit of knowledge of the truth (you know the old “VERITAS” thing) not with kow-towing to what ever is currently politically correct (I admit that the Boasians have cornered the market on political correctness, but I believe that the Galtonians hold the high ground when it comes to knowledge of the truth).

    It is perhaps telling that many of the “Blacks” associated with Harvard Law school can trace some of their ancestry to ethnoracial groups with higher average IQ compared to sub-Saharan Africans.

    Lani Guinier (Jewish mother)
    Elie Mystal (Chinese grandfather)
    Barack Obama (White Unitarian mother)
    Henry Louis Gates (Wikipedia “…Gates learned of his high percentage of European ancestry due to his descent from the mulatto John Redman.”)

    Also it is interesting that a large proportion of students and staff at Harvard (about 30%) and probably a higher percentage in the Law School (including Dean Minow and potential Supreme Elena Kagan) are members of a special ethnoracial group that is only about 3% of the general population. Dean Minow feels that all ethnoracial groups have the same level of innate intelligence, thus Minow feels that Jews are not naturally more intelligent. Thus just as Dean Minow thinks that it is unfair that Blacks are “under-represented” in elite educational institutions and professions, does she also then think it is unfair that her own ethnoracial group is grossly “over-represented” in elite educational institutions and professions? If not, WHY NOT?

    If I were a Boasian I would object to this “over-representation” of Jews and to this “under-representation” of Blacks, but because I am a Galtonian, I fully recognize that ethnoracial groups are not innately equal in their various mental and physical traits, thus I believe that meritocratic procedures will tend to result in the selection of members of ethnoracial groups in proportions that are commensurate with their group levels of innate talents such as IQ-type intelligence.

  21. collapse expand

    People, let’s assume for a moment that there is some measurable difference between black peoples’ intelligence and white peoples’ intelligence. Let’s go farther off the deep end and say it’s an amazing 10% difference in “intelligence,” whatever that means. Let’s call it our general notions of comprehension and problem solving. Let’s say this is a scientific fact proven by repeatable observations.

    Given that set of facts, it’s clear that whatever difference there is, *IT DOESN’T MATTER.* Even if blacks have a disability, so to speak, when it comes to intelligence, it can clearly be overcome. Otherwise, we couldn’t have black doctors, we wouldn’t have black engineers, etc., because they wouldn’t be capable of performing those functions.

    Stephanie Grace’s defenders argue that it’s just academic to point out the possibility of a difference in intelligence. Some of her defenders may argue that black people, with their lower intellect, are only where they are because of affirmative action. Well, then, how do they *keep* their positions? Once they’re “handed” their seat at Harvard Law or “granted” a job at a semiconductor company, wouldn’t they flame out immediately with their measurably lower intelligence? Wouldn’t the invisible hand of the free market push out all professionals who are inept at their jobs? Why isn’t Utah or Wyoming or North Dakota a bastion of scientific or philosophical progress?

    By allowing this discussion under the guise of academic discourse, what Grace is attempting to do is legitimize long debunked theories. And, as I argue, theories that even if proven to be factually true, don’t seem to amount to much in the real world, except to perpetuate a belief that one group of people is beneath another. Ask India how that philosophy is working out for them.

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    “Why isn’t Utah or Wyoming or North Dakota a bastion of scientific or philosophical progress?”

    There are not very many Jews, East Asians, or high caste Indians in Utah or Wyoming or North Dakota.

    “Ask India how that philosophy is working out for them.”

    India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Almost all of the top scientists, intellectuals, and business leaders are either high caste Hindus, Jains, or Parsees. These same high-IQ ethnoracial groups tend to do very well in the Indian diaspora to U.K., Africa, Latin America, and USA. Just further evidence to validate the Galtonian viewpoint.

    • collapse expand

      Thank you Galtonian. Clearly, Jews, East Asians, and high caste Indians are genetically predisposed to higher intelligence than North American Caucasians. It’s got nothing to do with cultural norms that place a high value on education or access to such education. Thanks for making my argument for me. I should tell my managing partner to reduce my billing rate WRT to the Asians in the office since my patents are more stupider than theirs. And I should clarify one thing I said.. let’s ask the *lower caste* Indians how the caste system (illegal in India BTW) is working out for them. (and all of them once their bubble economy bursts)

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Yeah, India’s booming economy is all due to Indians’ high IQs and genetic superiority. It has nothing to do with the country shifting to a market economy over the past 20 years.

      You know what else high-caste people have besides “high IQs”? Money, education, health care, opportunity. I don’t know how you can look at a centuries old, highly stratified class system and see anything like a meritocracy.

      Read Guns, Germs & Steel; or at least watch the documentary.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Plus, Indian immigrants don’t “do very well” because their ethnic group has natural gifts. They succeed because they are already successful people when they immigrate. You need to have a certain level of education and/or business experience in order to qualify as an economic immigrant; and you can’t immigrate as a worker unless you already have a job waiting for, and proof of the job offer.

      If you immigrate to Canada as an entrepeneur under the economic class, and after two years you don’t have the kind of business you said you were going to start, and haven’t created at least one full-time permanent job for a Canadian citizen, then you get deported.

      Countries like Canada and the USA cherry pick individuals who have the greatest prospect of success, no matter where they live. We attract them with the promise of economic opportunity and success – if they don’t “make it”, then it’s because the host country misrepresented the available opportunities.

      The success of immigrants has nothing to do with the virtues of a particular ethnoracial group. It’s because immigration policies select the individuals who are most likely to succeed.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  23. collapse expand

    Thank you for this Elie. What bugs me about the comments on here is the attempt to downplay the substance of the question by saying “why is it any different than saying x group tends to have red hair, or y group tends to be taller?,” as if noting differences in such traits among races is no more or less offensive than noting differences in intelligence among races.

    Let the record reflect what one of our beloved founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, said about race and intelligence a few hundred years ago in his Notes on the State of Virginia (which, believe it or not, was published at the height of his advocacy against the institution of slavery):

    “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications. Will not a lover of natural history then, one who views the gradations in all the races of animals with the eye of philosophy, excuse an effort to keep those in the department of man as distinct as nature has formed them?”

    People seem to fail to understand that it was “intelligence,” or the supposed lack thereof, that formed the basis of the view of our founding fathers that blacks were inferior PEOPLE. Not differences in hair texture, differences in height, differences in eye color, etc.

    The people that seem to be arguing in favor of the question NOT being racist seemed to be folks who are not part of a group under constant attack as being less capable intellectually than other people on the planet. Go figure.

    • collapse expand

      “The people that seem to be arguing in favor of the question NOT being racist seemed to be folks who are not part of a group under constant attack as being less capable intellectually than other people on the planet. Go figure.”

      How do you know this? Is there some special flag, that only you can see, that lets you know the ‘race’ of the poster? Or are you just being lazy, and assuming your conclusion without proof?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Thanks for responding to the whole post (not).

        OK. Fair enough. No, I don’t have a special flag that allows me to identify the race of posters. I freely admit that there may be people who identify themselves as black/African-American that truly believe they’re less intelligent on average than white people because of genetics and that are willing to defend the question as not being racist. I also freely admit that there may be scholars out there who identify themselves as black/African-American who believe this is an inquiry worth pursuing (or maybe not since they know and understand they’re not as intellectual capable as white folks). If you would be so kind as to find me some examples, I would greatly appreciate it. There have to be at least a few of these brave individuals out there willing to state publicly that they believe they’re dumber than white people because of genetics. Just as I am sure that there are white folks out there who are brave enough to support further inquiry into the question of whether white folks are genetically predisposed to be serial killers: (http://maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc%20405/Student%20Notes%20-%20Serial%20Killers.pdf) or alcoholics: (http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/nhsda/2k1nhsda/vol3/Sect2v1_PDF_W_100-111.pdf)

        In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          “OK. Fair enough. No, I don’t have a special flag that allows me to identify the race of posters. ”

          Thank you. I was just trying to get you to acknowledge that you were merely being prejudiced. The rest of your post is an attempt to justify your prejudice by highlighting your own inability to find counterexamples to the judgment that you derived independently from any actual data.

          In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Please. Your response was nothing more than a weak jab. My post was designed to demonstrate the absurdity of a black/African-American person finding some intellectual merit in the question of whether blacks are genetically inferior to whites with respect to intelligence. The remainder of my post: (1) asked that you identify some examples to disprove my so called “prejudice.” You know, the “actual data” that you feel I need to produce to support my inductive reasoning (for the record, in my original post, I said quite clearly “[t]he people that seem to be arguing in favor of the question NOT being racist…,” not “[t]he poster….” The “people” certainly includes more than the anonymous posters I have observed here. Of the people I have observed that have publicly identified themselves and have supported the idea that the question is not racist, not a single one appears to be black/African-American. But like I said, I can’t rule out the possibility that there are blacks/African-Americans who think the question has intellectual merit That’s why I’m asking you to help me find them); (2) shows that it would seem equally absurd to think a white person would find some intellectual merit in the question of whether whites are genetically predisposed to engage in certain objectionable behaviors (serial killing, alcoholism) given that they are statistically overrepresented among individuals who engage in such behaviors. Or perhaps not since you have previously stated you think that “arguing against group differences between and among various gene pools is a losing proposition” and that “different groups will always have different means and variances.”

            While I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea that “our aspirations for justice…frees us from the unfairness of biology,” I think it’s much easier to buy into that when you’re not deemed part of a group that, as compared to others, is supposedly low man on the totem pole with respect to intellect, arguably the most valued and valuable of all human “traits.”

            In response to another comment. See in context »
          • collapse expand

            Doug Smith, I have really enjoyed your responses to the comments here and your openness in this conversation.

            In response to another comment. See in context »
        • collapse expand

          Which, if either, of these propositions do you believe is true?

          (1) “No intellectually honest person could entertain the possibility that there are genetic correlates to race that pertain to general intelligence”, or
          (2) “No black person can be intellectually honest” ?


          In response to another comment. See in context »
  24. collapse expand

    You have got to be the only person in the world who understands the Declaration of Independence to have meant – much less to have established – that “all men” have “equal human capacity.” I take you to mean that no individual is genetically more intelligent than another? That is a ridiculous claim. Does someone born severely mentally retarded have the same “equal human capacity” as a genius? I think he/she has the same dignity and human worth, but to say that he/she has the same “equal human capacity” – by which I take you to mean, genetically, equal human capacity for intelligence, since that was the subject of your original piece and subsequent comments – is nonsense.

    But I think part of our disagreement may have been that I misunderstood your piece. I thought you were talking about “science,” as the word traditionally is understood. I didn’t realize that you were instead talking about “beliefs” – or, as your buddy marissaao puts it: “Science is not some purely rational field of thought unblemmished by politics. Science is political.” See, I thought you were talking a “purely rational field of thought.” I didn’t realize you were just espousing political views and calling them science. So I apologize for that misunderstanding.

    I also apologize for misunderstanding you re Clarence Thomas. When you said that Clarence Thomas was “a walking, talking confirmation that anybody can harbor racist beliefs, if they just try hard enough,” I thought you were saying that Clarence Thomas is a racist. I don’t know where I got that. My understanding had always been that someone who “harbors racist beliefs” is a racist. I guess others have different understandings of the word.

    Lastly, my original comment was that I didn’t think it was possible to establish definitively, or even tentatively, that any particular race was, on average, genetically more intelligent than any other race because there are simply too many environmental factors for which you have to control. You say: “If there was an immutable difference in intelligence, don’t you think white people would have found it by now? they’ve only been trying to ‘prove’ it for 600 years or so.” I don’t see how this is inconsistent with my point. My point was that I don’t believe you could ever prove such a thing, even if it were true, an issue about which I have no idea or opinion, precisely because I don’t think it can be scientifically proven or disproven (to avoid further confusion, when I say “scientifically,” I am using the term in its traditional sense, not to indicate “beliefs” or “politics”). Can you “prove” to me that any particular race is the precise equivalent of another race as far as genetic intelligence? That may be the case, although my guess is that it’s not – what the differences are and the degree of the differences, I have no idea.

  25. collapse expand

    Intellectualism? Not a problem Elie faces. Here’s a blast from the past!

    PAST ELIE’S ARGUMENT [word for word Elie Mystal's own work]
    Let’s start with the easiest arguments, Gates was the victim and he suffered damages. The Cabbed Caller was attempting to help Gates, by protecting his house from a possible break-in, yet through her efforts Gates suffered more harm. Arguably the reputational and psychological damages Gates suffered far outstripped the financial damages he would have suffered had there been an actual break in.
    Now, yes, I understand that good Samaritan laws have been erected as a shield to protect citizens who try to help from overly litigious victims. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve completely eviscerated the opportunity for victims to get a judgment against a person who was trying to help, but caused more harm than good.
    Okay, I can hear all of you screaming about the “intervening cause” of the police officers. Even people sympathetic to Gates believe that if anybody is liable, it is the cops, not the Cabbed Caller.
    But that’s how I get to the Cabbed Caller’s recklessness in calling the police in the first place. It’s not intervening if you could reasonably foresee the actions that would result from your conduct. Could the Cabbed Caller have reasonably foreseen that calling the cops would lead to the arrest of whomever was in the house? I say yes. Where there are other actions that a reasonable person could have taken instead of bringing in the shock troops? I say yes.
    Was it therefore reckless to call the cops in the first place? Well, for that I’d want to depose the witness. I’d want to know if she had any reason, at all, to believe that the cops would behave appropriately. And then I’d want to know if she had any reason, at all, to believe that the cops would behave appropriately when confronted by “two black men, with backpacks.”
    Because if there is willful and wanton recklessness here, it rests with this person’s belief that the police would behave appropriately towards a black man in a Cambridge suburb after being “tipped” that there was a B&E in progress. I know that point angers people of all races — especially perhaps those who think we are just a few steps away from living in a happy racial utopia where justice is truly blind.
    But justice is not blind, not even close, and at some point it becomes aggressively dangerous to pretend that it is. The Cabbed Caller knows, or should have known, that the police would overreact to the situation she presented them with. It was incumbent upon her to take her head out of the sand and engage with the world as it is, not as she would like it to be.
    Her failure to do so, her decision to put her faith in the Cambridge police when there were other options at her disposal, constitutes recklessness. At least, that’s the argument.
    Now, even though I don’t have ready access to case law — Above the Law is still waiting for its free Lexis and Westlaw passwords — I’m pretty sure that no court has ever held a person liable for calling the cops. The societal incentive for reporting crime probably outweighs the incentive to protect black people from police harassment. But just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. The laws are already there, and we are making progress.
    Someday, it will not be okay to call the cops on any black person that appears in your neighborhood.

  26. collapse expand

    For the sake of clarifying my perspective, I’m white. I wanted to comment on this and I hope I can express my take on this clearly enough… race is always a tricky thing for me… it’s so easy to trip someone’s sensitivities while not even trying.

    I don’t personally believe that race plays any real, measurable role in “intelligence”. Still, I don’t believe the question itself is racist… genetics are a tricky discipline… who knows what is the case at this point. Our science simply isn’t up to the task of answering these questions. That being said, here’s the deal: Even on the odd chance that race and intelligence were somehow linked, any resulting change would be a. so incredibly small as to be virtually incalculable (I feel comfortable saying this because I can cite very large numbers of any given race that have awed and inspired me in some way or another with any one of endless types of “intelligence”) and b. not something that should be stapled to an entire population as if to say “all are dumber than . Further, I believe any measurable differences in average “intelligence” between races falls more to differences in education, upbringing, etc. Granted, all races have individuals of below or above average mental capacity but life just hasn’t given me any reason to believe that race places any real role… If I had to sum up my opinion here it is that, while the question itself isn’t racist, one would have to be observing the world through racist-colored glasses to think it something even worth positing. Does that make sense?

    • collapse expand

      I think you are splitting hairs to much. If you read up on the people who support these theories they think the differences are very small– but significant enough to account for the fact that black people die younger and get arrested more often etc. –that’s where all of this is going. It’s an explanation for social problems that are related to racism and classicism. A way of explaining the difference away.

      When few black people graduate from college… we’ll asking for the rates to be the same would be “asking to much.” Since black people lack the critical 5-10 IQ points that other races have. And the low test scores are not the result of poverty systemic oppression, stereotypes etc.

      It’s just and “UN-PC fact” that “liberals can’t handle”

      That’s why I reject the whole thing from start to end it’s built on a racist premise.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  27. collapse expand

    Volkmar Weiss is a brilliant researcher who has definitively proven IQ differences between races. The higher IQ of American blacks compared to Africans is down to interracial breeding with whites, not nutrition. Of course, Americans are so paralyzed by PC; they went so far as to elect a totally unqualified chief executive who is, ironically, turning America into a 3rd-world “African” country.


  28. collapse expand

    Talking about how black people are intellectually inferior can become a self-fulling prophecy. When you tell a person “You’re the kind of person who can do math– you have what it takes.” most of the time… it works, if you can get them to believe it. And, if you send negative messages, it can hurt performance.

    I think that keeping these destructive ideas in circulation is only helping demotivate and demoralize young blackfolks. I know the book the “Bell Curve” really got me down when I was about 14 years old. I wrote a letter to Charles Murray telling him that I didn’t think he had enough evidence and that all he was doing we reinforcing stereotypes and hurting people. (Of course) He didn’t write me back, but to this day, I wince when I hear things like, this even though I know they aren’t really true. I have these creeping moments of doubt. Which is dumb since I’m about to get my masters degree in Math in a few weeks. BUt when I feel doubt I can’t do math anymore– it’s like my brain is paralyzed.

    You see, not all people are confident enough to let this stuff just roll of their back. I think it has a big impact on some people, when they hear things about black people just not being as smart–they look at difficult intellectual pursuits, that are hard enough without making extra mental obstacles for yourself, and they think “that’s not for me.”

    I do my best to let my students know that I believe in them… and really I do. And in 5 years of teaching I have seen no differences between races in capacity–though I have seen big differences in how prepared students are for my class– Everyone makes the same progress even if they didn’t start at the same point. (And when I remember this I have no problem doing my work in mathematics. )

    Though, I do have colleges who don’t agree and they say racist things from time to time. I wonder if that influences the way that the teach.

  29. collapse expand

    The fact that all men are created equal is not debatable, it is “self-evident.”

    How is this self-evident?
    What you have written in protest to a question is something of a leading question. You ask rhetorical questions in such a way that the only reasonable answer is the agree with you.

    I’d say the it’s not racist to say it’s “possible” for African Americans to be genetically deficient in intelligent. It’s also entirely possible and sometimes I think it might be true that Caucasians are genetically deficient.

    If you’re saying that there is no possibility for error, that based entirely on a lack of data everybody is genetically of equal intelligence, your argument should be invalid.

    My Opinion: 1. you’re an idiot to say everybody is wrong and we must all be the same.
    2. whoever wrote this wrote it in such a way that it is racist, whether or not the subject and the concepts behind the question are racist of not, by only stating that “african-americans” are inferior they’ve spun the question in a racial way.

    By the way, I’m not from America, I can’t understand the way race works in your society it’s just pure stupidity to even contemplate it.

  30. collapse expand

    very frustrating reading all these comments . I believe there is the infinite in everything . mystery in everything . even when the whole of the brain is mapped cell by functional cell, what will we have learned? That we are meat machines. But we already knew that. And we also know that will never ever be the whole truth. My intelligence may be a function of my particular arrangement of genes, but it is not who or what I am, me, the thing, the entity that builds and rebuilds and arranges and rearranges over time, experience by experience, insight by insight. I’m an ignorant person, I know. But I allow myself to show it sometimes in order to learn. So tell me, how do you measure the mystical in us? the need for poetry? the craving to express, to sing, to dance, to make art … so many different kinds of intelligence … In my mind there is no argument here. We are all human beings, each somewhat different, each somewhat the same, each each all all human.

  31. collapse expand

    A great article, Elie. But I should caution you about the use of the Harvard seal without approval. The provost’s office is quite rabid in their enforcement of copyright. I was called out just for using the seal on the title page of my thesis.

  32. collapse expand

    Great piece, but one quibble: this claim

    “Every student that has ever gotten into Harvard has learned the value of homework. ”

    …is provably incorrect.

  33. collapse expand

    Wonderful piece, but, I do think using the word “race” makes it seem like there is a homogeneous sensical line of reasoning behind the word. I think it would be better to use the word attributes. Attributes are not fixed in time like the word race. There is no genetic variant that determines racial characteristics, there are, though, various attributes that converge in a certain location in space and time with a certain group of people. These attributes, as you yourself mentioned, are not fixed and they are in constant fluidity.

    But, regarding the email, you are right. If they wanted to be scientific they should have read up, at least a little bit, on the very issue they were talking about. They should have also followed a scientific line of reasoning. I think people tend to forget the difference between racism and discrimination. Racism is: “the belief that race is a primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”(wikipedia).

  34. collapse expand

    I think it would be absolutely imbecilic to claim that intellect is not genetic. It can only be genetic. Anyone making a claim that intelligence is not genetic is a liar.

    I also find it imbecilic that people believe that the Negroid race is not less intelligent than the Caucasoid or Mongoloid races. Every definition for intelligence and every method of testing it have shown that they score worse than any other race. This isn’t a guess, this is cold hard reality and does not change based on your feelings towards. We are discussing over 600 worldwide IQ tests, international schooling standard tests, MRI scans on brain size, whatever. They all show the same data.

    I am also aware of the notion that “Race doesn’t exist”. I find it interesting that his can be claimed when geneticists don’t even know a fraction of what needs to be known before making such a claim. For example, what if the genetic cause of intellect is found and it turns out all the IQ data was correct, and that Caucasoids, Negroids, and Mongoloids did indeed have different intellectual capacity? How would this not challenge these premature claims on race not existing?

    Furthermore it’s blatantly obvious that these claims of a “continuum” are a method of remaining PC. ALL species can be genetically classified as a continuum, not just race. It’s a ridiculously stupid, cowardly, and childish method at combating the reality of human and racial differences.

  35. collapse expand

    Playing devils advocate here. Let us see if we can remove some of the loaded terms here to make this more understandable. Things that need defining first.
    First we would have to show that there are certain genes that correlate to scores on IQ tests. Then we would have to show that there are strong correlations between the gene frequency and “race”. Would something along these lines be more palatable?

  36. collapse expand

    This sounds like they are drawing heavily off of the book ‘The bell curve’ which is a product of mostly psychiatric research that derives from the notion that all traits are genetic and represent themselves biologically through the brain. When millions of people of a certain race are this or that way than within that field the genetics responsible for brain development will be considered the cause.

  37. collapse expand

    “Is it possible that people who can dunk a basketball have brains that emit a special electromagnetic pulse that allows them to repulse from the Earth more easily than people (like me) who can’t dunk?”

    The genetic development of other body parts besides the brain would account for this.

    “Lat’s telling us that anecdotal observation of height among different populations suggests an open academic question as to whether an entire ethnic group of humans is genetically dumber than some other ethnic group.”

    The brain – with its 100 billion neurones and 150 trillion synapses – can be no less influenced or directed by genetics than any other simpler organ or biological process.

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    About Me

    My first name is pronounced like Eliot without the “it,” my last name is pronounced like the Crystal I don’t have the “M”oney to afford. I’m an editor of Above the Law, a legal website that covers all of the gossip and business of the legal profession. Prior to that I wrote about politics. I used to be a lawyer, but I quit that profession in lieu of stripping naked and lighting myself on fire. I received a degree in Government from Harvard University because I enjoy pain, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School because I dislike change. I’m also a Met fan (pain + born in Queens).

    I’m African-American thanks to my maternal grandmother (which means there is one word I can use that white people can’t. Mwahaha). My father is from Haiti and my wife is from Zimbabwe, but outside of the northeast corridor I turn into a sniveling idiot. My maternal grandfather is from China, so I can make fun of Chinese-Americans ¼ of the time. It’d be great to go a whole year without embarrassing my mother, as Julia might say “Ye Gods, can that woman wait.”

    See my profile »
    Followers: 154
    Contributor Since: May 2009