This issue has deep moral and political implications. If we conclude that some human racial groups are on average more intelligent than others because of their evolved genetic nature, does that deny the moral and political principle of equality of rights? Or can we affirm the equal dignity of all human beings as a moral and political principle that has nothing to do with the scientific question of whether human beings are in fact equal or unequal in their genetic nature, and particularly in the genetics of intelligence? Or does our belief in equal human dignity require a belief in the genetic equality of human beings in their cognitive capacities?
As I have indicated in a previous post, Wade is confusing, if not contradictory, in his answer to these questions. On the one hand, he says that because of the fact/value dichotomy, there is no connection at all between scientific facts and moral values, and so we can affirm that racism is wrong "as a matter of principle, not science" (7). On the other hand, he argues that "people being so similar, no one has the right or reason to assert superiority over a person of a different race," which seems to ground a moral claim on the scientific fact of human similarity (9).
There should be general agreement on the fact of racial differences in IQ scores in the United States. Asian Americans score on average 105, European Americans score 100, and African Americans score 85 to 90. There also should be general agreement that IQ arises both from genetic causes and from environmental causes. But as is so often the case in nature/nurture issues, some people stress the genetic side, and others stress the environmental side. The disagreement comes in explaining the causes of the IQ gap between African Americans and others--with hereditarians saying that the cause is mostly genetic and environmentalists saying it's mostly environmental. If it's mostly genetic, the IQ gap cannot be closed anytime soon, and social policies to do this--such as special educational programs for black children--probably won't work. If it's mostly environmental, the gap might be closed by social policies that change the environment for black children in ways that make it more conducive to cognitive development.
In principle, we should be able to resolve this debate by looking at the evidence. But so far, the evidence is indecisive. There are two reasons for this. The first is that the shaping of intelligence through the interaction of genes, brains, individual differences, and social environment is so complex that it is extremely hard to study; and, as Wade repeatedly emphasizes, we simply don't know much about the precise mechanisms by which genes and environment influence intelligence and social behavior.
The second reason why this debate has not yet been resolved is that few academic researchers are willing to study this issue, because it has become taboo to discuss it. Few universities even have courses on the scientific study of intelligence, because professors are afraid to teach such courses for fear that they will be branded as racists. I must admit that I am one of those. For many years, I have wanted to teach a course on the IQ debate. But I have not, because I cannot imagine how I could do it without being accused of racism.
James Flynn is one of the leading academic researchers studying IQ and intelligence, and he argues for the environmentalist position--against hereditarians like Arthur Jensen and Charles Murray. But Flynn chides his academic colleagues for refusing to engage in the research necessary to clarify this debate. He identifies himself as a Social Democrat or Democratic Socialist, and so he's a man of the left. But he accuses his leftist colleagues of suppressing all free inquiry into the causes of the black/white IQ gap, because they secretly suspect that the gap is genetic rather than environmental, and they fear that this would refute their belief in human equality. Even if the black/white IQ gap turns out to be purely environmental, because it's a product of a black subculture that does not develop the skills for solving cognitively complex problems, which is Flynn's position--even this environmentalist explanation would be condemned by the left as racist stereotyping.
I admire Flynn because he openly admits that any conclusions about how to explain the racial IQ gap must be tentative, because the evidence so far is indecisive. And, therefore, anyone who claims that this debate has been clearly decided has not seriously thought through the issue. For this reason, he respects those like Jensen and Murray who disagree with him in a fair-minded way. He has even dedicated his book Are We Getting Smarter? "To Arthur Jensen, Whose integrity never failed." And while he has vigorously disagreed with the argument of Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray's The Bell Curve, he insists that any serious thinker about this debate must respect the intellectual weight of that book.
I also admire Flynn because despite this uncertainty, he's willing to make the most plausible case he can for his position that the black/white IQ gap is mostly environmental rather than genetic. He makes such a good argument that I am now leaning in his direction.
The best summary of his argument that I have seen is in his book Where Have All the Liberals Gone? Race, Class, and Ideals in America (Cambridge University Press, 2008), pages 68-111. (A good overview of the science of intelligence and intelligence testing is Ian J. Deary's Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction [Oxford University Press, 2001].)
Flynn's conclusion is that black and white Americans are equal at conception in their genetic propensity for IQ, and therefore the entire black-white IQ gap is environmental; and the most important environmental cause is that the American black subculture from infancy to adulthood is less cognitively demanding than is the American white subculture.
He offers five lines of evidence and reasoning for this conclusion. First, Flynn stresses the importance of a study by Klaus Eyferth of German children born after World War II whose mothers were German and fathers were American servicemen. He compared 170 children whose fathers were black, and 69 whose fathers were white. He matched the groups so that the social economic status of the mothers was similar. The half-black and white children were almost equal in IQ and in their scoring for "general intelligence" (g) or GQ. The tendency of a wide variety of cognitive skills to intercorrelate is measured as g, which many researchers regard as the cognitive complexity that is best identified with intelligence. In America, black children tend to score lower in both IQ and GQ. In Germany, it seems, this gap disappears. Flynn's explanation is that when black genes are transmitted through white German women, the children become Germans with darker skins than other Germans; and although they might suffer some discriminatory treatment, they grow up without the black subculture of America.
It is possible that the black American soldiers in Europe were a more elite group than the white soldiers, if the low-IQ blacks were eliminated. But if the racial IQ gap in America were genetic, we would expect that eliminating low-IQ blacks would reduce but not obliterate the gap. That the gap in both IQ and GQ seen in America disappeared completely in Germany suggests that the American gap is not genetic but environmental, because it's created by the American environment of black subculture.
The problem, however, is that this is only one study involving a small number of cases; and so it's weighty but not conclusive.
Flynn's second line of argument is that studies of American black subculture have identified factors that make that subculture less cognitively complex than the American white subculture. Flynn sees a succession of environments from birth to childhood to adulthood that impede the cognitive development of black Americans. Black mothers tend to talk less and use smaller vocabularies around their infants than do white mothers. Black children are more likely to hear commands and criticisms rather than encouraging praise from their mothers than are white children. When mothers are helping their children with a cognitive test, black mothers tend to simply give the answers to their children, while white mothers ask questions or suggest strategies for the children to find the answers for themselves.
Elsie Moore compared two groups of adopted black children, 23 adopted by white middle-class families and 23 adopted by black middle-class families. The adoptive mothers and fathers were similar in their years of schooling. When the children were tested at ages 7 to 10, the black children adopted into the black families had an average IQ of 103.6, while those adopted into the white families had an average IQ of 117.1. When Moore studied how the mothers interacted with their children while they were being tested, she saw that the black mothers were harshly critical in ways that discouraged their children, while the white mothers smiled and gave positive encouragement that invited the children to ask for help.
Flynn also traces the movement of black Americans through the teenage black subculture and then young adulthood in which entry into cognitively demanding leisure and occupational activities is discouraged.
Flynn's third line of argument is that the black/white IQ gap increases with age, which suggests a series of cumulative environmental pressures that discourage the cognitive development of blacks. Blacks at age 4 have an average IQ of 95.4. By age 24, this average has dropped to somewhere around 85.
Flynn's fourth line of argument is that there is now evidence that in recent decades about one third of the traditional black-white IQ gap has disappeared--from 15 to 10 points. This indicates some improvement in American black life to make it more conducive to cognitive development.
Finally, Flynn's fifth line of argument is that for which he is famous--the "Flynn effect." Average IQ scores in the United States went up at least 30 points in the twentieth century. Flynn surmises that this massive IQ gain began in the industrial revolution and has continued in scientifically and technologically advanced developed nations, because the social environment in modern societies is much more cognitively demanding than in premodern societies.
If American blacks of 2002 are normed on American whites of 1947-48, the black IQ is 104.31. This by itself does not prove that the black-white IQ gap is purely environmental, but it certainly shows that this is possible. Similarly, the lowest average IQ scores in the world are in the developing societies of sub-Saharan Africa. But these scores today are about the same as those for Americans in 1900. So as modernization spreads to the developing societies, they could experience the same massive gains in IQ that have occurred in the United States and other developed nations.
If all of these arguments are plausible, then they support a persuasive but not demonstrative conclusion that black and white Americans begin at conception with roughly equal genetic propensities for the high cognitive functioning required to be successful in modern industrialized societies, and that the IQ gap has arisen from the environmental effects of a black subculture that hinders cognitive development.
What difference does it make morally and politically if we take the side of the environmentalists like Flynn or the side of the hereditarians like Jensen and Murray? Flynn suggests that it might make little difference:
"If there is a genetic component in the racial IQ gap, blacks as a group will always have less favorable statistics compared to whites for academic achievement, occupation, income, and mortality. However, the intense feelings that surround this question are largely a product of human misery. If America afforded access to a good life to all of its citizens, blacks would have about as much interest in why there are fewer black than Irish doctors as Irish have about why there are fewer Irish than Chinese accountants." (111)If I understand correctly what Flynn is saying here, he is agreeing with Murray that genetically based racial differences in average intelligence and social behavior should be "no big deal" in a free society with equality of opportunity in which there's a chance for all to find valued places for themselves in society. In such a society, we would judge people as individuals and not as people determined by the average traits of their groups. I noted this in my post last summer on Murray's lecture at the Mont Pelerin Society conference in the Galapagos Islands.
But notice that while Murray sees this as supporting classical liberalism or libertarianism, Flynn thinks we need Social Democracy or Democratic Socialism that enforces welfare state policies and a redistribution of income to create truly equal opportunities. For Flynn, it seems, we need the coercive intervention of the state to correct the unfair and undeserved disadvantages that come either from bad genes or bad environments.
Some of these points are developed in other posts here and here.