The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, January 07, 2008


Erich said:
"But I do think that, when one bothers to examine the connotation as well as the denotation of "racist", saying "even a true statement can be racist" passes silently over a huge social and scientific problem that, however conveniently buried out of sight for now, will probably not stay buried for much longer."

Am I mistaken in suggesting that there is a preassumption here: that science has something to tell us that will be problematic? Specifically that, were a non-culturally biased IQ test developed, thoroughly tested by a multicultural battery of scientists and then applied...that blacks (or group X) would test lower. Shouldn't such a comment be formulated as: "IF there is an innate difference, THEN we have a huge social and scientific problem..." etc
IF there is no innate difference, THEN we have no scientific problem, but indeed a social one--dealing with those who have used the politics of racial inferiority for centuries to deny a people their due. But either way, wasn't that missing, Erich?
Personally, if such a gap exists, the more we know about it the better. I don't believe that knowledge is ever a really bad thing, and lies eventually trip you up.


Dan Gambiera said...

I don't know if the human mind could stand unfiltered Truth twenty four hours a day. But truth is still better than lies.

If something like this were true it would be important to take account of it and act accordingly. But it couldn't just be that truth. The self-serving ugly things that inspired people to ask the question and the actions they take as a result would need to be put under the same harsh light.

Anonymous said...


Speaking of ...

Gave some more thought to your offer yesterday and ... they'd never believe me. You only did after:

1. Irrefutable photos of various characters, including me with them.

2. Statements of others that I can personally vouch for.

3. Personally knowing me for close to ... no ... it HAS been 40 years now! Holy hell ... so much for my lying and saying I'm just 39now! Yikes!

4. Knowing my career choice.

They'd never buy it old son. Thanks anyway.

Anonymous said...

"Am I mistaken in suggesting that there is a preassumption here: that science has something to tell us that will be problematic?"

Whenever I see this wretched issue of genetically-based racial differences raised, the response I see from politically progressive always seems to go along the following programmatic cascade:

1. There's no such thing as general intelligence, IQ, or "g".

2. Even if there is, it's not really important.

3. Even if it's really important, it's socially determined, not biologically determined.

4. Even if in some theoretical sense it might be partially biologically determined, nobody can ever prove that scientifically, because studies [X, Y, or Z], done with fantastically crude tools in [1901, 1950, or 1990] were defective.

5. Even if we get better tools for rationally mapping genetic variations to phenotypic variations, there is no scientific meaning whatsoever to racial groups.

6. Even if there is actually some scientifically observable phenomenon significantly correlating with racial groups, there is no possibility whatsoever that any phenotypically significant genetic polymorphisms are unequally distributed between those racial groups.

7. Even if somehow somebody manages to map racially asymmetrically distributed genetic variations with significant phenotypic consequences, wanting to do so just proves that they're white male racists.

8. Even if somebody points out that, simply as a byproduct of doing basic science, we may end up inadvertantly discovering such racially variable genetic polymorphisms despite our not wanting to ... that just proves that they have a "preassumption"!

....... sigh ........

Look, I have no real idea what the ultimate science on this will be. I would not be particularly shocked if there proved to be racial variations in genes modifying IQ. I also wouldn't be particularly shocked if there weren't. I can see rational arguments for either outcome, given our current ignorance.

What I am saying is, it's not a good idea to base your entire social ideology on the assumption that real science will never shove a painful, inconvenient truth in your face.

Because, as we all know, sometimes science does. Just ask the contemporaries of Galileo, Darwin, or Einstein.

--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

Truth about America:

Wealth is the stuff that people own. The main items are your home, other real estate, any small business you own, liquid assets like savings accounts, CDs and money market funds, bonds, other securities, stocks, and the cash surrender value of any life insurance you have. Those are the total assets someone owns. From that, you subtract debts. The main debt is mortgage debt on your home. Other kinds of debt include consumer loans, auto debt and the like. That difference is referred to as net worth, or just wealth.

Why is it important to think about wealth, as opposed just to income?

Wealth provides another dimension of well-being. Two people who have the same income may not be as well off if one person has more wealth. If one person owns his home, for example, and the other person doesn’t, then he is better off.

Wealth — strictly financial savings — provides security to individuals in the event of sickness, job loss or marital separation. Assets provide a kind of safety blanket that people can rely on in case their income gets interrupted.

Wealth is also more directly related to political power. People who have large amounts of wealth can make political contributions. In some cases, they can use that money to run for office themselves, like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

What are the best sources for information on wealth?

The best way of measuring wealth is to use household surveys, where interviewers ask households, from a very detailed form, about the assets they own, and the kinds of debts and other liabilities they have run up. Household surveys provide the main source of information on wealth distribution.

Of these household surveys — there are now about five or six surveys that ask wealth questions in the United States — probably the best source is the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

They have a special supplement sample that they rely on to provide information about high income households.

Wealth turns out to be highly skewed, so that a very small proportion of families owns a very large share of total wealth. Most surveys miss these families. But the Survey of Consumer Finances uses information provided by the Internal Revenue Service to construct a special supplemental sample on high income households, so they can zero in on the high wealth holders.

How do economists measure levels of equality and inequality?

The most common measure used, and the most understandable is: what share of total wealth is owned by the richest households, typically the top 1 percent. In the United States, in the last survey year, 1998, the richest 1 percent of households owned 38 percent of all wealth.

This is the most easily understood measure.

There is also another measure called the Gini coefficient. It measures the concentration of wealth at different percentile levels, and does an overall computation. It is an index that goes from zero to one, one being the most unequal. Wealth inequality in the United States has a Gini coefficient of .82, which is pretty close to the maximum level of inequality you can have.

What have been the trends of wealth inequality over the last 25 years?

We have had a fairly sharp increase in wealth inequality dating back to 1975 or 1976.

Prior to that, there was a protracted period when wealth inequality fell in this country, going back almost to 1929. So you have this fairly continuous downward trend from 1929, which of course was the peak of the stock market before it crashed, until just about the mid-1970s. Since then, things have really turned around, and the level of wealth inequality today is almost double what it was in the mid-1970s.

Income inequality has also risen. Most people date this rise to the early 1970s, but it hasn’t gone up nearly as dramatically as wealth inequality.

What portion of the wealth is owned by the upper groups?
Wolff: The top 5 percent own more than half of all wealth.

In 1998, they owned 59 percent of all wealth. Or to put it another way, the top 5 percent had more wealth than the remaining 95 percent of the population, collectively.

The top 20 percent owns over 80 percent of all wealth. In 1998, it owned 83 percent of all wealth.

This is a very concentrated distribution.

Where does that leave the bottom tiers?

The bottom 20 percent basically have zero wealth. They either have no assets, or their debt equals or exceeds their assets. The bottom 20 percent has typically accumulated no savings.

A household in the middle — the median household — has wealth of about $62,000. $62,000 is not insignificant, but if you consider that the top 1 percent of households’ average wealth is $12.5 million, you can see what a difference there is in the distribution.

Huckabee will not tell you that. He represents the elite class that wants to lower progressive taxes and cut the social safety net increasing wealth inequalities. Greed is not Good.

Steven Barnes said...

"What I am saying is, it's not a good idea to base your entire social ideology on the assumption that real science will never shove a painful, inconvenient truth in your face."
Absolutely. I would suggest that the tendency to presume that the universe is as we think it is is fairly evenly distributed among human groups, regardless of ideology or political position, though.

Anonymous said...

"... the tendency to presume that the universe is as we think it is is fairly evenly distributed among human groups, regardless of ideology or political position ..."

I agree.

I think Francis Bacon agreed too, which was why he called this tendency "Idols of the Tribe." That was about 400 years ago. Nothing's changed!

--Erich Schwarz

Anonymous said...

Evolutionary theory states simply that organisms will adapt to fit the ecological niche they inhabit. Why is that we (meaning those who believe in evolution) accept that all other creatures adapt to their environment and thus have different biological capabilities, but when intelligence capabilities within different human populations are discussed we do not apply the same rules?

Let me be clear here, I am not talking about "race" being a determining factor. "Race" as it has come to be defined seems to merely talk about skin color and some other relatively minor cosmetic differences. What I am questioning is whether or not some sub-populations are "smarter" than others?

Could it be that sub-populations such as the habitually poor constitute such a group? Or conversely could the habitually well-off be another? There is the perception that on general the poor are not "smart" while the well-off are "smart".

Is this a way to talk about the IQ "problem" without the discussion devolving into polemics about "racism"?

Mike Frank

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you of course, the issue is not about IQ , it is about who has the most criminal blood seeking mind. The issue for the wealthy is not IQ, it is all only about who will kill those who have the most wealth to exploit that wealth for the Aryan family . The goal is to own the most wealth. Very Aryan

Racism, sexism, and classism are socially constructed and always at their most rampant under contol-oriented, right-wing/reactionary (neoconservative/fascist) regimes such as the United States.

Anonymous said...

Gah. First I argue passionately for the need of science to pursue truth regardless of society's feelings.

Then I evoke a bunch of trolls.

Suddenly I'm finding myself weirdly in sympathy with Lynn Gazis-Sax. Mehercule!

--Erich Schwarz

Frank said...

Henry Wilcoxon: I do not think it is a good idea to make your points through plagiarism, do you?

Anonymous said...

On the subject of wealth changes in the U.S. assuming the numbers given are correct, how do we make any social value judgments without understanding why the change. Let’s say that a couple a stay at home mom and a taxi driver scraped together $7000 for a down payment in 1960 and bought a $28000 home on Long Island. Due to inflation and the real estate boom on the island their house the island is now worth $750000. Does this make them part of some evil wealthy class? Does it mean that fascist elements in the country are manipulating the laws for the good of the rich on the backs of the poor ? Real estate booms, stock market booms and anything in a good economy that increase the value assets will increase the difference between those who have assets and those that don’t. The only cure for this is to not allow individuals to own assets. This is called communism and I for one am not interested in living in a communist country.
On the subject of racial differences I for one believe that it would be amazing if there are not some sort of differences between the races, but being different doesn’t necessarily mean superior /inferior it just means different. In all probability there are many differences between the races and some are more favorable to one and some to others. Also even where there are differences the populations almost certainly overlap to such an extent that it doesn’t matter. Lets assume one race really has a lower average IQ than another, If 95% of one population have IQ’s between 90 and 110 and 93% of the other population has an IQ in that range who cares? What real meaning to the world does it have?

Anonymous said...

We need to learn not to generalize. I don't know if that's possible but that's what we need to learn.

Science has already discovered some "inconvenient truths" about the differences between men and women. Men, generally are better at math and science. So what? There are undeniably individual women who are better at math and science than a great many men.

Whatever "inconvenient truths" science happens to uncover about other groups, the same will be true. These "truths" will be merely statistics that apply to the group as a whole, not to individuals. However, I can understand why this kind of science makes some people nervous. There is a huge potential for misinterpretation and misuse.

Anonymous said...

Generalization is an important mental tool. If I move into a new house and the first spring the deer eat all my flowers and bushes, should I ignore that lesson, or next year should I protect my garden with a deer fence generalizing that otherwise the deer will eat everything again. Or if some people incorrectly generalize that because some blacks are criminals most blacks are criminals should we make the generalization that since some generalizations are bad all generalization is bad.

Anonymous said...

A number of the posters are addressing questions about race and IQ ;however IQ is mutable .I Q. is affected by the environment in which we live and the IQ test given at a particular time.

And my opinion is based on a scientific report that discusses many aspects of the argument about wealth; is IQ an indicator of greater intelligence or is IQ an indicator of social privilege backed up by the power of the nation state, or ones social environment.

I am arguing that IQ says nothing about the intelligence of a race, but everything to do with ones social environment and who designed the IQ test.

What I.Q. doesn't tell you about race.

by Malcolm Gladwell

If what I.Q. tests measure is immutable and innate, what explains the
Flynn effect---the steady rise in scores across generations?

One Saturday in November of 1984, James Flynn, a social scientist at the
University of Otago, in New Zealand, received a large package in the
mail. It was from a colleague in Utrecht, and it contained the results
of I.Q. tests given to two generations of Dutch eighteen-year-olds. When
Flynn looked through the data, he found something puzzling. The Dutch
eighteen-year-olds from the nineteen-eighties scored better than those
who took the same tests in the nineteen-fifties---and not just slightly
better, /much/ better.

Curious, Flynn sent out some letters. He collected intelligence-test
results from Europe, from North America, from Asia, and from the
developing world, until he had data for almost thirty countries. In
every case, the story was pretty much the same. I.Q.s around the world
appeared to be rising by 0.3 points per year, or three points per
decade, for as far back as the tests had been administered. For some
reason, human beings seemed to be getting smarter.

Flynn has been writing about the implications of his findings---now
known as the Flynn effect---for almost twenty-five years. His books
consist of a series of plainly stated statistical observations, in
support of deceptively modest conclusions, and the evidence in support
of his original observation is now so overwhelming that the Flynn effect
has moved from theory to fact. What remains uncertain is how to make
sense of the Flynn effect. If an American born in the nineteen-thirties
has an I.Q. of 100, the Flynn effect says that his children will have
I.Q.s of 108, and his grandchildren I.Q.s of close to 120---more than a
standard deviation higher. If we work in the opposite direction, the
typical teen-ager of today, with an I.Q. of 100, would have had
grandparents with average I.Q.s of 82---seemingly below the threshold
necessary to graduate from high school. And, if we go back even farther,
the Flynn effect puts the average I.Q.s of the schoolchildren of 1900 at
around 70, which is to suggest, bizarrely, that a century ago the United
States was populated largely by people who today would be considered
mentally retarded.

For almost as long as there have been I.Q. tests, there have been I.Q.
fundamentalists. H. H. Goddard, in the early years of the past century,
established the idea that intelligence could be measured along a single,
linear scale. One of his particular contributions was to coin the word
"moron." "The people who are doing the drudgery are, as a rule, in their
proper places," he wrote. Goddard was followed by Lewis Terman, in the
nineteen-twenties, who rounded up the California children with the
highest I.Q.s, and confidently predicted that they would sit at the top
of every profession. In 1969, the psychometrician Arthur Jensen argued
that programs like Head Start, which tried to boost the academic
performance of minority children, were doomed to failure, because I.Q.
was so heavily genetic; and in 1994 Richard Herrnstein and Charles
Murray, in "The Bell Curve," notoriously proposed that Americans with
the lowest I.Q.s be sequestered in a "high-tech" version of an Indian
reservation, "while the rest of America tries to go about its business."
To the I.Q. fundamentalist, two things are beyond dispute: first, that
I.Q. tests measure some hard and identifiable trait that predicts the
quality of our thinking; and, second, that this trait is stable---that
is, it is determined by our genes and largely impervious to
environmental influences.

This is what James Watson, the co-discoverer of DNA, meant when he told
an English newspaper recently that he was "inherently gloomy" about the
prospects for Africa. From the perspective of an I.Q. fundamentalist,
the fact that Africans score lower than Europeans on I.Q. tests suggests
an ineradicable cognitive disability. In the controversy that followed,
Watson was defended by the journalist William Saletan, in a three-part
series for the online magazine /Slate/. Drawing heavily on the work of
J. Philippe Rushton---a psychologist who specializes in comparing the
circumference of what he calls the Negroid brain with the length of the
Negroid penis---Saletan took the fundamentalist position to its logical
conclusion. To erase the difference between blacks and whites, Saletan
wrote, would probably require vigorous interbreeding between the races,
or some kind of corrective genetic engineering aimed at upgrading
African stock. "Economic and cultural theories have failed to explain
most of the pattern," Saletan declared, claiming to have been "soaking
[his] head in each side's computations and arguments." One argument that
Saletan never soaked his head in, however, was Flynn's, because what
Flynn discovered in his mailbox upsets the certainties upon which I.Q.
fundamentalism rests. If whatever the thing is that I.Q. tests measure
can jump so much in a generation, it can't be all that immutable and it
doesn't look all that innate.

The very fact that average I.Q.s shift over time ought to create a
"crisis of confidence," Flynn writes in "What Is Intelligence?"
(Cambridge; $22), his latest attempt to puzzle through the implications
of his discovery. "How could such huge gains be intelligence gains?
Either the children of today were far brighter than their parents or, at
least in some circumstances, I.Q. tests were not good measures of

The best way to understand why I.Q.s rise, Flynn argues, is to look at
one of the most widely used I.Q. tests, the so-called WISC (for Wechsler
Intelligence Scale for Children). The WISC is composed of ten subtests,
each of which measures a different aspect of I.Q. Flynn points out that
scores in some of the categories---those measuring general knowledge,
say, or vocabulary or the ability to do basic arithmetic---have risen
only modestly over time. The big gains on the WISC are largely in the
category known as "similarities," where you get questions such as "In
what way are 'dogs' and 'rabbits' alike?" Today, we tend to give what,
for the purposes of I.Q. tests, is the right answer: dogs and rabbits
are both mammals. A nineteenth-century American would have said that
"you use dogs to hunt rabbits."

"If the everyday world is your cognitive home, it is not natural to
detach abstractions and logic and the hypothetical from their concrete
referents," Flynn writes. Our great-grandparents may have been perfectly
intelligent. But they would have done poorly on I.Q. tests because they
did not participate in the twentieth century's great cognitive
revolution, in which we learned to sort experience according to a new
set of abstract categories. In Flynn's phrase, we have now had to put on
"scientific spectacles," which enable us to make sense of the WISC
questions about similarities. To say that Dutch I.Q. scores rose
substantially between 1952 and 1982 was another way of saying that the
Netherlands in 1982 was, in at least certain respects, much more
cognitively demanding than the Netherlands in 1952. An I.Q., in other
words, measures not so much how smart we are as how /modern/ we are.

This is a critical distinction. When the children of Southern Italian
immigrants were given I.Q. tests in the early part of the past century,
for example, they recorded median scores in the high seventies and low
eighties, a full standard deviation below their American and Western
European counterparts. Southern Italians did as poorly on I.Q. tests as
Hispanics and blacks did. As you can imagine, there was much concerned
talk at the time about the genetic inferiority of Italian stock, of the
inadvisability of letting so many second-class immigrants into the
United States, and of the squalor that seemed endemic to Italian urban
neighborhoods. Sound familiar? These days, when talk turns to the
supposed genetic differences in the intelligence of certain races,
Southern Italians have disappeared from the discussion. "Did their genes
begin to mutate somewhere in the 1930s?" the psychologists Seymour
Sarason and John Doris ask, in their account of the Italian experience.
"Or is it possible that somewhere in the 1920s, if not earlier, the
sociocultural history of Italo-Americans took a turn from the blacks and
the Spanish Americans which permitted their assimilation into the
general undifferentiated mass of Americans?"

The psychologist Michael Cole and some colleagues once gave members of
the Kpelle tribe, in Liberia, a version of the WISC similarities test:
they took a basket of food, tools, containers, and clothing and asked
the tribesmen to sort them into appropriate categories. To the
frustration of the researchers, the Kpelle chose functional pairings.
They put a potato and a knife together because a knife is used to cut a
potato. "A wise man could only do such-and-such," they explained.
Finally, the researchers asked, "How would a fool do it?" The tribesmen
immediately re-sorted the items into the "right" categories. It can be
argued that taxonomical categories are a developmental
improvement---that is, that the Kpelle would be more likely to advance,
technologically and scientifically, if they started to see the world
that way. But to label them less intelligent than Westerners, on the
basis of their performance on that test, is merely to state that they
have different cognitive preferences and habits. And if I.Q. varies with
habits of mind, which can be adopted or discarded in a generation, what,
exactly, is all the fuss about?

When I was growing up, my family would sometimes play Twenty Questions
on long car trips. My father was one of those people who insist that the
standard categories of animal, vegetable, and mineral be supplemented
with a fourth category: "abstract." Abstract could mean something like
"whatever it was that was going through my mind when we drove past the
water tower fifty miles back." That abstract category sounds absurdly
difficult, but it wasn't: it merely required that we ask a slightly
different set of questions and grasp a slightly different set of
conventions, and, after two or three rounds of practice, guessing the
contents of someone's mind fifty miles ago becomes as easy as guessing
Winston Churchill. (There is one exception. That was the trip on which
my old roommate Tom Connell chose, as an abstraction, "the Unknown
Soldier"---which allowed him legitimately and gleefully to answer "I
have no idea" to almost every question. There were four of us playing.
We gave up after an hour.) Flynn would say that my father was teaching
his three sons how to put on scientific spectacles, and that extra
practice probably bumped up all of our I.Q.s a few notches. But let's be
clear about what this means. There's a world of difference between an
I.Q. advantage that's genetic and one that depends on extended car time
with Graham Gladwell.

Flynn is a cautious and careful writer. Unlike many others in the I.Q.
debates, he resists grand philosophizing. He comes back again and again
to the fact that I.Q. scores are generated by paper-and-pencil
tests---and making sense of those scores, he tells us, is a messy and
complicated business that requires something closer to the skills of an
accountant than to those of a philosopher.

For instance, Flynn shows what happens when we recognize that I.Q. is
not a freestanding number but a value attached to a specific time and a
specific test. When an I.Q. test is created, he reminds us, it is
calibrated or "normed" so that the test-takers in the fiftieth
percentile---those exactly at the median---are assigned a score of 100.
But since I.Q.s are always rising, the only way to keep that
hundred-point benchmark is periodically to make the tests more
difficult---to "renorm" them. The original WISC was normed in the late
nineteen-forties. It was then renormed in the early nineteen-seventies,
as the WISC-R; renormed a third time in the late eighties, as the WISC
III; and renormed again a few years ago, as the WISC IV---with each
version just a little harder than its predecessor. The notion that
anyone "has" an I.Q. of a certain number, then, is meaningless unless
you know which WISC he took, and when he took it, since there's a
substantial difference between getting a 130 on the WISC IV and getting
a 130 on the much easier WISC.

This is not a trivial issue. I.Q. tests are used to diagnose people as
mentally retarded, with a score of 70 generally taken to be the cutoff.
You can imagine how the Flynn effect plays havoc with that system. In
the nineteen-seventies and eighties, most states used the WISC-R to make
their mental-retardation diagnoses. But since kids---even kids with
disabilities---score a little higher every year, the number of children
whose scores fell below 70 declined steadily through the end of the
eighties. Then, in 1991, the WISC III was introduced, and suddenly the
percentage of kids labelled retarded went up. The psychologists Tomoe
Kanaya, Matthew Scullin, and Stephen Ceci estimated that, if every state
had switched to the WISC III right away, the number of Americans
labelled mentally retarded should have doubled.

That is an extraordinary number. The diagnosis of mental disability is
one of the most stigmatizing of all educational and occupational
classifications---and yet, apparently, the chances of being burdened
with that label are in no small degree a function of the point, in the
life cycle of the WISC, at which a child happens to sit for his
evaluation. "As far as I can determine, no clinical or school
psychologists using the WISC over the relevant 25 years noticed that its
criterion of mental retardation became more lenient over time," Flynn
wrote, in a 2000 paper. "Yet no one drew the obvious moral about
psychologists in the field: They simply were not making any systematic
assessment of the I.Q. criterion for mental retardation."

Flynn brings a similar precision to the question of whether Asians have
a genetic advantage in I.Q., a possibility that has led to great
excitement among I.Q. fundamentalists in recent years. Data showing that
the Japanese had higher I.Q.s than people of European descent, for
example, prompted the British psychometrician and eugenicist Richard
Lynn to concoct an elaborate evolutionary explanation involving the
Himalayas, really cold weather, premodern hunting practices, brain size,
and specialized vowel sounds. The fact that the I.Q.s of
Chinese-Americans also seemed to be elevated has led I.Q.
fundamentalists to posit the existence of an international I.Q. pyramid,
with Asians at the top, European whites next, and Hispanics and blacks
at the bottom.

Here was a question tailor-made for James Flynn's accounting skills. He
looked first at Lynn's data, and realized that the comparison was
skewed. Lynn was comparing American I.Q. estimates based on a
representative sample of schoolchildren with Japanese estimates based on
an upper-income, heavily urban sample. Recalculated, the Japanese
average came in not at 106.6 but at 99.2. Then Flynn turned his
attention to the Chinese-American estimates. They turned out to be based
on a 1975 study in San Francisco's Chinatown using something called the
Lorge-Thorndike Intelligence Test. But the Lorge-Thorndike test was
normed in the nineteen-fifties. For children in the nineteen-seventies,
it would have been a piece of cake. When the Chinese-American scores
were reassessed using up-to-date intelligence metrics, Flynn found, they
came in at 97 verbal and 100 nonverbal. Chinese-Americans had slightly
lower I.Q.s than white Americans.

The Asian-American success story had suddenly been turned on its head.
The numbers now suggested, Flynn said, that they had succeeded not
because of their /higher/ I.Q.s. but despite their /lower/ I.Q.s. Asians
were overachievers. In a nifty piece of statistical analysis, Flynn then
worked out just how great that overachievement was. Among whites,
virtually everyone who joins the ranks of the managerial, professional,
and technical occupations has an I.Q. of 97 or above. Among
Chinese-Americans, that threshold is 90. A Chinese-American with an I.Q.
of 90, it would appear, does as much with it as a white American with an
I.Q. of 97.

There should be no great mystery about Asian achievement. It has to do
with hard work and dedication to higher education, and belonging to a
culture that stresses professional success. But Flynn makes one more
observation. The children of that first successful wave of
Asian-Americans really did have I.Q.s that were higher than everyone
else's---coming in somewhere around 103. Having worked their way into
the upper reaches of the occupational scale, and taken note of how much
the professions value abstract thinking, Asian-American parents have
evidently made sure that their own children wore scientific spectacles.
"Chinese Americans are an ethnic group for whom high achievement
preceded high I.Q. rather than the reverse," Flynn concludes, reminding
us that in our discussions of the relationship between I.Q. and success
we often confuse causes and effects. "It is not easy to view the history
of their achievements without emotion," he writes. That is exactly
right. To ascribe Asian success to some abstract number is to trivialize

Two weeks ago, Flynn came to Manhattan to debate Charles Murray at a
forum sponsored by the Manhattan Institute. Their subject was the
black-white I.Q. gap in America. During the twenty-five years after the
Second World War, that gap closed considerably. The I.Q.s of white
Americans rose, as part of the general worldwide Flynn effect, but the
I.Q.s of black Americans rose faster. Then, for about a period of
twenty-five years, that trend stalled---and the question was why.

Murray showed a series of PowerPoint slides, each representing different
statistical formulations of the I.Q. gap. He appeared to be pessimistic
that the racial difference would narrow in the future. "By the
nineteen-seventies, you had gotten most of the juice out of the
environment that you were going to get," he said. That gap, he seemed to
think, reflected some inherent difference between the races. "Starting
in the nineteen-seventies, to put it very crudely, you had a higher
proportion of black kids being born to really dumb mothers," he said.
When the debate's moderator, Jane Waldfogel, informed him that the most
recent data showed that the race gap had begun to close again, Murray
seemed unimpressed, as if the possibility that blacks could ever make
further progress was inconceivable.

Flynn took a different approach. The black-white gap, he pointed out,
differs dramatically by age. He noted that the tests we have for
measuring the cognitive functioning of infants, though admittedly crude,
show the races to be almost the same. By age four, the average black
I.Q. is 95.4---only four and a half points behind the average white I.Q.
Then the real gap emerges: from age four through twenty-four, blacks
lose six-tenths of a point a year, until their scores settle at 83.4.

That steady decline, Flynn said, did not resemble the usual pattern of
genetic influence. Instead, it was exactly what you would expect, given
the disparate cognitive environments that whites and blacks encounter as
they grow older. Black children are more likely to be raised in
single-parent homes than are white children---and single-parent homes
are less cognitively complex than two-parent homes. The average I.Q. of
first-grade students in schools that blacks attend is 95, which means
that "kids who want to be above average don't have to aim as high."
There were possibly adverse differences between black teen-age culture
and white teen-age culture, and an enormous number of young black men
are in jail---which is hardly the kind of environment in which someone
would learn to put on scientific spectacles.

Flynn then talked about what we've learned from studies of adoption and
mixed-race children---and that evidence didn't fit a genetic model,
either. If I.Q. is innate, it shouldn't make a difference whether it's a
mixed-race child's mother or father who is black. But it does: children
with a white mother and a black father have an eight-point I.Q.
advantage over those with a black mother and a white father. And it
shouldn't make much of a difference where a mixed-race child is born.
But, again, it does: the children fathered by black American G.I.s in
postwar Germany and brought up by their German mothers have the same
I.Q.s as the children of white American G.I.s and German mothers. The
difference, in that case, was not the fact of the children's blackness,
as a fundamentalist would say. It was the fact of their
/Germanness/---of their being brought up in a different culture, under
different circumstances. "The mind is much more like a muscle than we've
ever realized," Flynn said. "It needs to get cognitive exercise. It's
not some piece of clay on which you put an indelible mark." The lesson
to be drawn from black and white differences was the same as the lesson
from the Netherlands years ago: I.Q. measures not just the quality of a
person's mind but the quality of the world that person lives in. ?

CORRECTION: In his December 17th piece, "None of the Above," Malcolm
Gladwell states that Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, in their
1994 book "The Bell Curve," proposed that Americans with low I.Q.s be
"sequestered in a 'high-tech' version of an Indian reservation." In
fact, Herrnstein and Murray deplored the prospect of such "custodialism"
and recommended that steps be taken to avert it. We regret the error.

Anonymous said...

IQ tests probably measure something, but I'm not sure what. Many years ago a friend of ours asked us to participate in a study he was doing as part of a his Ph. D thesis in psychology. My wife and I each took two IQ tests as part of the study. One was the standard written type and one used blocks and pictures and stuff. My wife and I each scored 30 points lower on the block and picture test than the written one. While both were called IQ tests they clearly weren't measuring the same thing.

Unknown said...

Suddenly I'm finding myself weirdly in sympathy with Lynn Gazis-Sax.

Hey, what's weird about that? Being in sympathy with Lynn Gazis-Sax is the most normal thing in the world :-).

Just kidding. I know what you mean about the trolls.