Tag Archives: genetics

Ezra Klein on the Genetics of IQ

Ezra Klein, founder of the “explainer” media company Vox, has written a long piece arguing that, given the long-fraught character of race relations in American society, it is nearly impossible to fairly interpret studies that purport to show that racial differences in IQ are genetic in origin. Klein’s article frames the topic in the context a recent podcast in which “new atheist” blogger Sam Harris defended Charles Murray against his many highly vocal critics. (Murray is co-author of the 1994 book The Bell Curve, in which he endorsed the claim that persistent racial gaps in IQ are the result of genetic differences.)

Although Klein’s article begins there (and Harris has responded with vociferous denials, claims of defamation, and the puzzling release of an old e-mail exchange with Klein), the article soon shifts focus to the more general question of whether anyone can make sense of racial claims of this sort without first coming to terms with the long, sordid history of racial prejudice in the US.

Klein summarizes his view thus:

Research shows measurable consequences on IQ and a host of other outcomes from the kind of violence and discrimination America inflicted for centuries against African Americans. In a vicious cycle, the consequences of that violence have pushed forward the underlying attitudes that allow discriminatory policies to flourish and justify the racially unequal world we’ve built.

Although Harris advances the belief that racialist views like Murray’s are “forbidden” in today’s culture of “political correctness,” Klein notes that there is nothing new in such views; they have been openly held in American society literally for centuries, and are, indeed, the foundation upon which many American institutions were founded.

Klein also considers seriously the view of IQ researcher James Flynn (of the ”Flynn Effect”), who has explained the marked rise in average IQs over the past century in terms of the increasing cognitive demands of the modern technological world that we have created. However, Klein continues,

Over hundreds of years, white Americans have oppressed black Americans — enslaved them, physically terrorized them, ripped their families apart, taken their wealth from them, denied their children decent educations, refused to let them buy homes in neighborhoods with good schools, locked them out of the most cognitively demanding and financially rewarding jobs, deprived them of the professional and social networks that power advancement.

Among the many, many awful effects this has had is to deny black Americans the full cognitive advantages of navigating the modern economy, of wearing their scientific spectacles. For this reason, Flynn argues that “the black/white IQ gap is probably environmental in origin.”

Harris and Murray do not take this scenario seriously, according to Klein, nor do they consider its relevance to claims of genetic differences. Instead, Harris and Murray shift the argument to one in which white advocates of the genetic theory of racial inferiority are the real victims, attacked for “daring” to suggest what has, in fact, been a central trope throughout much of American history.

Klein and Harris have apparently agreed to appear together on one or the other of their popular podcasts. It might well prove to be a tense encounter.

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New BBC4 Series on Intelligence

BBC Radio 4 begins a new series today on the fraught topic of intelligence. The focus of each of its three half-hour episodes is given by the series title: “Intelligence: Born Smart, Born Equal, Born Different.” The series is hosted by BBC4 science regular, Adam Rutherford. It will cover questions such as what intelligence is, how we have tried to measure it, what difference intelligence makes, and, most controversial of all, what relation intelligence may have to genetics.

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Arthur Jensen (1923-2012)

Arthur Jensen, who suggested in a now infamous 1969 article in the Harvard Educational Review that genetic differences between races were the root cause of differences in intelligence test scores between black and white students, has died. As reported in the New York Times,

In the article, Professor Jensen posited two types of learning ability. Level I, associative ability, entailed the rote retention of facts. Level II, conceptual ability, involved abstract thinking and problem-solving. This type, he argued, was roughly equivalent to general intelligence, denoted in psychology by the letter “g.”

In administering I.Q. tests to diverse groups of students, Professor Jensen found Level I ability to be fairly consistent across races. When he examined Level II ability, by contrast, he found it more prevalent among whites than blacks, and still more prevalent among Asians than whites.

Drawing on these findings, Professor Jensen argued that general intelligence is largely genetically determined, with cultural forces shaping it only to a small extent. For this reason, he wrote in 1969, compensatory education programs like Head Start are doomed to fail.

Unsurprisingly, this suggestion of a link between race and intelligence ignited intense controversy.

Jensen’s death comes on the heels of the death of Philippe Rushton, also known for his controversial views on the relationship between race and intelligence.

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Gardner Lindzey Dies

Famed American psychologist Gardner Lindzey died on Tuesday, February 5 at the age of 87. The announcement was made on the e-mail list for Cheiron by John Hogan, the History and Obituaries Editor for American Psychologist. No other details were given.

Perhaps best known for editing the two-volume Handbook of Social Psychology, first published in 1954, Lindzey also authored popular textbooks on psychology (with Calvin S. Hall and Richard Thompson) and on personality (with Calvin S. Hall). He also co-edited several recent volumes of the History of Psychology in Autobiography, a series begun by Carl Murchison in 1930. Continue reading Gardner Lindzey Dies

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Tracing the History of Syphilis

15syph1901.jpgIs Columbus responsible for bringing Syphilis to Europe?

According to an article that appeared in yesterday’s New York Times (“Genetic Study Bolsters Genetic Link to Syphilis“), a researcher team at Emory University believes they have found “the strongest evidence yet linking the first European explorers of the New World to the origin of sexually transmitted syphilis.”

The study was published in the online journal: Neglected Tropical Diseases (published by the Public Library of Science) this past Monday. In a summary of their methodology and principal findings, the authors write that:

Continue reading Tracing the History of Syphilis

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Old Eugenics vs. New Genetics

Dr Merryn EkbergAn article in the latest Social History of Medicine, 20(3), asks if “the new genetics is a renewal, reform or return of eugenics.” In her discussion, author Merryn Ekberg examines several issues that will also be of interest to historians of psychology.

One of the greatest fears associated with the new genetics is the resurgence of eugenics, but too often this assumes the new genetics is eugenics without investigating the diverse definitions and interpretations of eugenics. The aim of this paper is to critically investigate the concept of eugenics in theory and in practice…. The discussion is oriented around six key arguments that illuminate the central points of convergence and divergence between the old eugenics and the new genetics. Ultimately, the paper concludes that despite significant procedural, legislative and administrative differences between the old eugenics and the new genetics, and despite significant spatial, temporal and cultural variations in interpretation and implementation, at the ideological level, there is essentially no difference. The old eugenics was genetics and the new genetics is eugenics.

Continue reading Old Eugenics vs. New Genetics

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