Assume blacks have lower IQ than whites and DNA is to blame

Now name one thing you would do differently - as a politician, as a citizen or as a human being. I'll be damned if you can come up with a single example.

I really, really can't understand what this debate is all about (other than in an immature 'I did not evolve from the apes' or 'I am really frustrated the earth is not at the centre of the solar system' kind of a way). Hell, even this debate is more relevant.

Now can we please, as a culture, move on?


  1. Anonymous Says:

    What are you saying here? That IQ is an irrelevant metric? That even if we knew some people had lower IQ than others, that knowledge would be of no value at all? Or that we all already know what we know about people, whether they're black or white, and a scientific underpinning is useless?

    I think it does make a difference if you have information on innate difference between people. From the economist's perspective, on some accounts, this is fundamental to the design of a welfare state. And as a development of scientific knowledge, it can be argued, and perhaps as a paid up member of the positive sciences you may feel it intuitively, that there is value in knowledge itself. Why else do we go to such pains to ask questions and understand the world ?

  2. datacharmer Says:

    Anonymous - thanks for your comment.

    On your first paragraph, yes to all three.

    On your second paragraph:

    'From the economist's perspective, on some accounts, this is fundamental to the design of a welfare state.'

    Topic for discussion: How would a welfare state for a population with mean IQ of 95 be different to a welfare state for a population with mean IQ of 100? Or, to quote myself, how would you change our current institutions if a 'stupid' bomb lowered the IQ score of each and every person in the population by 10 points?

    Hint: I know of no economic model describing 'ideal' institutions where the distribution of the population's IQ is a variable of interest.

    And if you still don't agree with me, how about you start with something we know is largely hereditary and significantly affects people's outcomes in life? That's right, height.

    On your second point, there is value in knowledge itself indeed. But whether blacks are cleverer than whites is one of the least interesting questions you can ask. So why don't we give it a rest and try to establish whether red ants are more promiscuous than their black cousins?

  3. Anonymous Says:

    I don't know, but I would have thought that an attempt at a biological or genetic explanation for intelligence would in fact be fairly high on people's list of things they'd like to see scientists do. It is part of the enigmatic faculties that remain quite a mystery.

    Where you mention in your comment above about different mean IQs, you miss my point, which is about deviations, or outliers. Clearly absolute difference matter less in society than relative ones in terms of equity. Following Rawls and Dworkin, disparity of human 'endowments' such as IQ should provide a case for societal redistribution.

  4. datacharmer Says:

    I'm with you on redistribution, but why focus on IQ (a tiny proportion of a person's 'endowment') and it's (at best very weak) genetic relationship with race to justify redistribution? Even if you can make a convincing case for redistribution on the basis of IQ (which is very hard to do anyways), why bother with looking at genes - a very weak predictor of life outcomes indeed? If a black or white or green person is having a hard time we ought to help them out, whatever the reasons (lower IQ, lower beauty, worse social skills, disadvantaged background, bad luck etc).

    And of course there is an (anti-common sense, anti-common morality) case for targeting fixed characteristics rather than outcomes so that we don't distort incentives (along the lines of 'tax the tall') but I can't see how a resolution to the 'DNA or not' debate will affect it.

  5. Shane Says: This comment has been removed by the author.
  6. Shane Says:

    Assume orange people are 20 IQ points smarter than purple people while not differing in physical endowments. A development economist might encourage Orangeland to develop knowledge-intensive industries and Purplani to pursue labour-intensive ones. That is where their respective comparative advantages lie.

  7. datacharmer Says:

    Shane - thanks for your comment, which I will address directly (sorry if I come across as a bit harsh, that's not the intention)

    I believe there's a reason such a model has never been put forward before, and that's because it's not relevant to the real world.

    1. You don't need to have an explicit understanding of what your comparative advantage is to benefit from it; these things work out themselves without the involvement of development economists. People had been trading happily for centuries before Ricardo approached the issue.

    2. Why would a country whose citizens have higher IQ necessarily have a comparative advantage in 'knowledge-intensive' industries? The people who get PhD's may tend to be smart, but can't you find even smarter people who find it beneficial not to increase their knowledge/human capital? To make the general point, how IQ intensive is a typical knowledge-intensive industry?

    IQ (especially in ranges as narrow as 20 points) plays such a small part in the ability, say, to manage, or the ability to convince/impress/befriend other people/colleagues/customers, or your 'creative' ability; any difference in IQ feeds imperfectly into intelligence, which then feeds imperfectly into the optimal degee of optimal specialisation.

    Any IQ differences within reasonable ranges would basically be lost in the rounding.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    "Now name one thing you would do differently - as a politician, as a citizen or as a human being."

    For me, it's not a case of what I would do differently so much as concern for what other people might do differently. I have very little faith in a lot of the rest of the population to realise the insignificance of the issue. In particular, I would expect many employers to start discriminating on the basis of any findings, making incorrect assumptions that e.g. assuming that if there are 2 applicants from different races with the same educational scores that the one from the lower average IQ race is somehow less intelligent, even though the test scores show this not to be the case.

    With high expected levels of stupidity amongst employers I can see why many pundits are (perhaps rightly) keen to see the issue of a gap buried irrespective of whether there is evidence to back it up or keen to see no further research done on the issue.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Small differences in the average could have big implications for the upper tail of the distribution.

    Let's arbitrarily assume 160 is an important cut-off. Perhaps you need this level to be a good biochemist or top academic. If IQs are normally distributed and we compare 2 groups, one with an average IQ of 95 and another with 100, both with standard deviation of 30, there would be 1.5% of people above 160 in the first population but 2.3% in the second population, i.e. the second population would have about 50% more people above the arbitrary cut-off needed for certain activities. This would then be exacerbated if the first distribution is compacted as it moves to the left resulting in a smaller standard deviation.

    That sounds like the kind of magnitude that could lead to different policy prescriptions.

  10. Shane Says:

    Any industry requires large amounts of drones and a small amount of bright sparks. But if you're thinking of starting a software development company you'll need proportionately more of the bright young things than you will if you're building a garment factory. And if there is an IQ gap then that sort of distinction is relevant.

    Yes, we all know IQ is culturally biased, it's something you can study for, and it doesn't predict life outcomes anywhere near perfectly. And IQ score is a very bad way of choosing your friends.

    But it is a useful tool as it has been shown to correlate with personal characteristics that can be harnessed to build a productive economy. Imagine you were an employer and the only characteristic you were allowed to know about a bunch of applicants was their IQ score. Would you a) pick names from a hat or b) choose on the basis of IQ?

    I'm sure the results of your own IQ tests are broad and somewhat contradictory. But we wouldn't even be having this debate if your IQ or mine was under 80. And I shouldn't need to point out that as sample size increases these fluctuations tend to disappear.

    You're suggesting that either there is no IQ gap, or there is one but as IQ is such a malleable concept that correlates so badly with so little to the point that it is meaningless. Which is it DC? you can't have it both ways;-)

  11. datacharmer Says:

    Shane - You said:

    You're suggesting that either there is no IQ gap, or there is one but as IQ is such a malleable concept that correlates so badly with so little to the point that it is meaningless.

    I am suggesting there is no *genetic* IQ gap between the races, or there is a very small one: we simply don't know at this stage.

    I am further suggesting that even if there is a gap, IQ is not very well correlated with intelligence, let alone all the other things that make a worker productive (creativity, integrity, social skills, etc).

    And yes, a guy with an IQ of 160 is cleverer in many ways than a guy with an IQ of 60, or for that matter a gorilla with an even lower IQ (let alone a plant!).

    But when differences are so small, correlations with anything meaningful so low and the noise so deafeaning, I would certainly not find it worth looking at skin colour to infer who I should be hiring. Strictly speaking, in a sterile environment, you are right: in the complete absence of other information, you would go with IQ. But this is just like asking me whether I would bet on someone to win a marathon based on the fact he gets to start the race half a meter ahead of the other runners.

    This whole 'race and brains' debate is silly, whichever way you look at it. It has nothing to do with public policy, and nothing to do with knowledge. I can see the symbolism, but there isn't much more to it. It's childish.

  12. datacharmer Says:

    Anonymous (the last one - hey guys, why don't you just use a nickname to make everyone's life easier?)

    IQ scores are normally distributed by design. 'Amount of intelligence' isn't, and I would expect you get quite idiosyncratic behaviour at the tails.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Oh dear...
    Another liberal who cannot believe his own lying eyes.

    Lets see if you feel the same way when your wife or defenseless daughter is raped by an animal.