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Race and intelligence (Public controversy)

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Race and intelligence

Test data

Media portrayal

Utility of research
Potential for bias


The race and intelligence controversy is a decades-old dispute about research which examines the nature, origins, and practical consequences of possible racial and ethnic group differences in intelligence.



The 1969 publication of Jensen's "How Much Can We Boost IQ and School Achievement?" reintroduced race and intelligence to public and scholarly discussion. From that time through the publication of The Bell Curve in 1994, research on race and intelligence has sparked fervent controversy. Discussion in the public and from scholars outside of the field of IQ research has been predominantly critical.

Controversial issues and scope of the controversyEdit


  • intelligence is measurable and/or is dominated by a unitary general cognitive ability.
  • self-identified race is a useful categorization for social science research and can produce scientifically meaningful conclusions.
  • racial categories divide humans into "breeding populations" with concordant variation in some heritable traits
  • scientific racism
  • nature versus nurture


Points made by supporters and opponentsEdit

Points made by supportersEdit

IQ differences among individuals of the same race reflect (1) real, (2) functionally/socially significant, and (3) substantially genetic differences in the general intelligence factor. A consensus also exists for the view that average IQ differences among races reflect (1) real and (2) significant differences in the same g factor. However, it is a matter of debate whether IQ differences among races in the U.S. are (3a) entirely environmental or (3b) partly genetic.

Points made by opponentsEdit

  • Demographic groups do not differ meaningfully, on average, in important abilities and aptitudes.
  • Differences in cognitive ability and educational outcomes are ultimately due to differences in family advantage.
  • Cognitive ability is the result of exposures to opportunities to learn (i.e., equalizing learning opportunities will equalize learning).

Definitions of race and intelligenceEdit


Some scholars have argued that race and intelligence research is fundamentally flawed. One common criticism is that the concept of "race" is meaningless.

The 10,000-member American Anthropological Association criticized "mistaken claims of racially determined intelligence" in a public statement:

...differentiating species into biologically defined "races" has proven meaningless and unscientific as a way of explaining variation (whether in intelligence or other traits). [1]

Tate and Audette 2001 argued that the concept of "race" is both "logically incoherent" and incompatible with the existence of "gradations on a continuum of genetic data", and thus race "cannot explain psychological data."

Jensen summarized these views in his 1998 book The g Factor:

Nowadays one often reads in the popular press (and in some anthropology textbooks) that the concept of human races is a fiction (or, as one well-known anthropologist termed it, a "dangerous myth"), that races do not exist in reality, but are social constructions of politically and economically dominant groups for the purpose of maintaining their own status and power in a society. It naturally follows from this premise that, since races do not exist in any real, or biological, sense, it is meaningless even to inquire about the biological basis of any racial differences.
Jensen claims this line of argument has social and poitical sources rather than "scientific" ones, and that in the context of population genetics races are defined as "breeding populations with fuzzy boundaries".

A 1985 survey (Lieberman et al. 1992) asked 1,200 scientists how many disagree with the following proposition: "There are biological races in the species Homo sapiens." The responses were:

  • biologists 16%
  • developmental psychologists 36%
  • physical anthropologists 41%
  • cultural anthropologists 53%

(This survey did not specify any particular definition of race.)


Psychometric concepts of intelligence are also criticized by public intellectuals. In The Mismeasure of Man, Stephen Jay Gould argues:

"[...] the abstraction of intelligence as a single entity, its location within the brain, its quantification as one number for each individual, and the use of these numbers to rank people in a single series of worthiness, invariably to find that oppressed and disadvantaged groups—races, classes, or sexes—are innately inferior and deserve their status" (pp. 24-25).

However, intelligence experts view psychometrics as "the most influential approach", "the one that has generated the most systematic research", and the one that has "produced a substantial body of knowledge" (Neisser et al. 1996).

Race and intelligence togetherEdit

It is also common to argue that both "race" and "intelligence" are arbitrary social constructions. Sternberg and colleagues question the basis of race and intelligence research Sternberg 2005:

In this article, the authors argue that the overwhelming portion of the literature on intelligence, race, and genetics is based on folk taxonomies rather than scientific analysis. They suggest that because theorists working on intelligence disagree as to what it is, any consideration of its relationships to other constructs must be tentative at best. They further argue that race is a social construction with no scientific definition. Thus, studies of the relationship between race and other constructs may serve social ends but cannot serve scientific ends.

The views of IQ experts are significantly different than those of other scholars and public intellecutals.

In 1994, Linda Gottfredson published a Wall Street Journal editorial titled "Mainstream Science on Intelligence" (Gottfredson 2001), meant to outline "conclusions regarded as mainstream among researchers on intelligence," and co-signed by 51 other professors, all experts in intelligence and related fields. As defined in this collective statement, intelligence is measurable and largely heritable. IQ experts believe that the cause of racial and ethnic group differences in IQ is not merely test bias, that environment is important, but that "genetics could be involved too".

Opinions of scholars and others on the culture-only or partially-genetic explanationsEdit

See Race and intelligence (Culture-only or partially-genetic explanation)#Opinions of scholars and others

Test biasEdit

See Race and intelligence (Culture-only or partially-genetic explanation)#Test bias.

Scientific misconductEdit

See also: Race and intelligence (accusations of bias)

Supporters of race and intelligence research have accused other scientists of suppressing scientific debate for political purposes. Behavioral geneticist Glayde Whitney argued in his controversial 1995 presidential address to the Behavior Genetics Association that suppression of debate on both individual and group hereditary differences has occurred as a result of a larger ideology of "environmental determinism for all important human traits ... [a] 'Marxist-Lysenkoist' denial of genetics."[2]

Scientists who openly support the hereditary hypothesis have sometimes faced harassment and interference with their work or funding for (as critic of race and intelligence research William H. Tucker put it) "arriving at politically unpopular conclusions."(Tucker 2002) This has variously included ad hominems, vilifying distortion in the media, disruption of lectures, censuring from academic superiors or firing, police investigation, harassment of family, and even death threats, bomb threats, and physical assault.[3] Tucker, though a critic of these researchers' work, considers such treatment to be unjustified and ""intolerable violation of academic freedom."(Tucker 2002) When J. Phillipe Rushton was being censured by superiors at his University of Western Ontario in 1989, even notable scientists who had criticized his work, such as James Flynn and Jack Block wrote to the university on his behalf.(Tucker 2002)

On the other side, there have been claims of outright scientific fraud in Cyril Burt's (died 1971) research on IQ and genetics.

End materialEdit


  1. ^  AAA 1994
  2. ^  Including examples: Ad hominems, vilifying distortion in the media (e.g. Rolling Stone magazine featured a 1994 article titled "Professors of HATE" (in five-inch letters) with a photo of J. Phillipe Rushton's face doctored to look "ghoulish." The British Daily Mail headlined a 1999 interview with Arthur Jensen "Is This Man Truly the World's Most Loathsome Scientist?",[4] disruption of lectures, censuring from academic superiors (e.g. Rushton[5]) or firing (e.g. Chris Brand), police investigation (e.g. Rushton in 1989,[6] and Tatu Vanhanen in Finland in 2004[7]), harassment of family (e.g. Hans Eysenck's children were reportedly treated badly by teachers, causing Eysenck to change the family name to Evans[8]), and even death threats (e.g. Jensen, Rushton,[9] and Glayde Whitney), bomb threats (e.g. Jensen, Rushton[10], and Charles Murray) and physical assault (e.g. Eysenck was assaulted by Maoist protestors in 1973 while giving a lecture;[11] Arthur Jensen[12]).
  1. ^  Degler 1992, Loehlin et al. 1975
  2. ^  "Racial Scientist Rushton Takes Over Pioneer Fund," Bethune Institute for Anti-Fascist Studies, January 2003.
  3. ^  Joseph L Graves, "What a tangled web he weaves: Race, reproductive strategies and Rushton's life history theory," Anthropological Theory 2, no. 2 (2002): 131–54; Leonard Lieberman, "How 'Caucasoids' got such big crania and why they shrank. From Morton to Rushton.," Current Anthropology 42, no. 1 (February 2001): 69–95; Zack Cernovsky, "On the similarities of American blacks and whites: A reply to J.P. Rushton," Journal of Black Studies 25 (1995): 672.
  4. ^  Goosed-Up Graphics: A generalization of the Lie Factor, graphs from Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, by Stephen Jay Gould (Three Rivers, MI: Three Rivers Press, 1997): 109, fig. 16.
  5. ^  Linda S. Gottfredson, "The General Intelligence Factor," Scientific American.


Main article: Race and intelligence (References)

Race and intelligence

Research: Test data, Explanations, and Interpretations
Controversies: Utility and Potential for bias
History | Media portrayal | References

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