A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

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reader comments: IQ and Race

8 Feb 2012

I was quite disappointed to read your article on "IQ and race". That entry relies on many of the logical fallacies that skeptics seek to battle.

My short refutation of your piece would be such:

Q: What's the definition of intelligence? A: It doesn't matter, "IQ" test scores, measures something, as results strongly correlate with future socio-economic outcomes.

reply: The definition of intelligence does matter or it wouldn't be such a topic of contention. I've never denied that IQ test scores don't measure anything or that they don't correlate with future socio-economic outcomes. If you are interested in fallacies, the one you are committing is the straw man fallacy: you are trying to refute a position I do not hold and do not argue for.

Q: What's the definition of race? A: It doesn't matter. People who SELF-ASSIGN themselves to certain "cultural groups" (a concept previously known as race) under-perform other groups.

reply: The definition of race does matter or it wouldn't be such a topic of contention. Again, if this is what you call a refutation of my piece, you are arguing against a straw man. I do not claim that, as a group, some racial groups (self-assigned or not) under-perform other racial groups.

Q: Why, as a nation, do we care, can't we just live our life without labels? A: Good question. This would all be moot, except the government has defined an, according to skepdict, undefinable concept (race) and has chosen to give all sorts and manner of preferential treatment to persons based on this undefinable concept. eg. Some do poorly on the SAT (basically an IQ test), there is NO OTHER EXPLANATION, the test must be racist, we will spend more money to correct that infamous "GAP".

reply: Again, you are trying to refute a straw man. I do not claim that 'race' is indefinable. I do claim that the idea of a "pure" race is absurd, which is quite a different claim. Your gripe about affirmative action or preferential treatment is legitimate, but it is not an issue I take up in the piece. Nor do I say that the only explanation for differences among races in SAT scores is due to the test being racist.

Thank You,

Robert Buttons

reply: No, thank you for providing an excellent example of the straw man fallacy. I am disappointed, however, that you didn't name any specific fallacies you claim I rely on, nor did you provide any evidence that I made specific errors in reasoning.

Robert replies:

Sorry..I was a bit unclear in my original email. I was trying to present MY ARGUMENT in an attempt to simplify the concept of IQ and race. I will more closely talk about your piece.

It is difficult to talk about your conception of intelligence as you did not (to my knowledge) specifically define it.

You state: "This is inaccurate, however, since it assumes that there is only one kind of intelligence" and: "An IQ test, therefore, should be considered a measure of some kinds of intelligence" The strawman is thus: Who or what concept is assuming there is one kind of intelligence?

reply: I don't see how there is any strawman involved here. Maybe you are using the word in a different sense than I do. In my part of the world, a strawman is a distortion of another's argument that one is trying to refute or a tactic in which one refutes only the weakest version of an argument and ignores the stronger versions. My point about there being different kinds of intelligence was not put forth in an attempt to refute anybody's argument, but to make the point that IQ tests measure one kind of intelligence, not all kinds.

Again, there is an impasse here because of a non-definition of intelligence. And if an IQ test measures some kinds of intelligence, which kinds? And which kinds are left off? I personally think it is irrevelant, but your statements imply it is not.

reply: IQ tests often measure cultural intelligence, i.e., knowledge rather than potential. As for other kinds of intelligence: there is the intelligence needed to draw, to compose music, to understand mechanisms, to identify patterns, to grasp mathematical concepts, to track game in the forest, to draw inferences from information, and so on. Some of these are also tested in some IQ tests.

In your email, you write: "The definition of intelligence does matter or it wouldn't be such a topic of contention." This plays into test validity. I don't see how "contention" proves anything. There is contention about the nature of the "holy trinity", but that doesn't mean it is real or important.

reply: Now you're equivocating. You originally said the definition of 'race' or 'IQ' didn't matter. I said that it does matter or there wouldn't be such contention about the issue of race and IQ. I didn't say the issue was important because there is contention about it. I said it was important to define the terms about which there is contention.

It's a bit like gravity. We can measure the effects of gravity with a bathroom scale. Gravity exists, but we can't define it as a thing. Nobody has seen a graviton (if it even exists). There is certainly contention about these issues, but the definition of gravity doesn't matter when speaking of the validity of our bathroom scale test and using it to make predictions. If I measure IQ and it correlates to a broad range of cognitive and non-cognitive abilities (reaction time: http://www.iapsych.com/articles/helmbold2007.pdf). I can use it to make predictions (applied science). The nature of (definition of) intelligence becomes something of academic interest (pure science).

Thank you, Robert Buttons

reply: What's a bit like gravity?


20 Apr 2005
I was enjoying browsing through my copy of the Skeptic's Dictionary until I came across the following (p. 208):

"Had he seen what J. Phillipe Rushton, Arthur Jensen, Richard Lynn, Richard Herrnstein, or Charles Murray have done with statistical data to support an ideology of racial superiority ... ."

I hope that you will be doing a second edition of the book so that you can delete this statement. It is a combination of slander, gratuitousness, and inaccuracy that makes a total mockery of the principles of objectivity, inference, and scholarship that you tout elsewhere in this book and at your website.

I challenge you to document the basis of your claim that the motivation of these scholars is an ideological one ("well-financed" -- by the Illuminati, perhaps?)

Are there genetics-based differences in cognitive ability among ethnic and racial groups? The simple fact of the matter is that this is, at the present time, an open empirical question. And there are many, many behavioral scientists, geneticists, and neuroscientists who would be unwilling to bet several mortgage payments against the possibility that such differences exist.

If posing the question upsets those with a standard set of American social pieties, too bad for the pieties...as any true skeptic would say.

Anxiously awaiting your invitation to public debate of the issue.

Stephen Madigan
Associate Professor Psychology

reply:  These scientists seek clear definitions of race and IQ. They think IQ equates with intelligence or "cognitive ability." They think that there is some important social need served by identifying people by race and races by "intelligence." You are one deluded social scientist if you think these scientists are not engaging in ideological activity. What is not ideological about identifying some races as superior to others?

Madigan replies:

The level and possibile productivity of discourse could be raised if you would skip the personal remarks and focus on the substance.

reply: Interesting request from someone who accuses me of "slander, gratuitousness, and inaccuracy that makes a total mockery of the principles of objectivity, inference, and scholarship."

"Are there genetics-based differences in cognitive ability among ethnic and racial groups? The simple fact of the matter is that this is, at the present time, an open empirical question."

If you think this is not the case, I'd like to hear the reasons why.

reply: In one sense, the issue is closed. All cognitive ability has some "genetics-based" component. How you define "cognitive ability," "ethnic group," and "racial group" would make the specific measurement of cognitive ability an open empirical question. But why would anyone want to classify racial and ethnic groups by "cognitive ability," if not for some ideological purpose?

17 Dec 2000 
The claim of advocates of IQ testing is that IQ measures innate ability. Actually, it measures (in part) the opportunities that the person has had to learn over his lifetime. Poor children get second-rate educational opportunities, and this is reflected in their achievement on all sorts of tests, including IQ tests.

Viewed in this way, the gap in IQ scores between blacks and whites is an indictment of the lack of opportunities to learn that blacks "enjoy". Having been systematically oppressed and deprived of the opportunities of acquiring those characteristics that society uses to measure success, blacks are undeniably inferior, as measured in a number of ways: Income, education, housing, and IQ as well. The claim that this gap arises from "inherent" inferiority is a pseudo-scientific way of justifying the existing lopsided distribution of wealth and power, which is widely believed because it flatters whites and the sense of racial superiority. In fact, the IQ gap, like the income gap, is really a measure of racism, not genetics.

I suggest that you include in your bibliography Science and   Politics of IQ by Leon J. Kamin, an old book (1974) but a good one. Kamin exposed the research of Cyril Burt as fraudulent. Burt researched identical twins, and "proved" that IQ was inherited. Burt faked his data over a period of decades, and for good measure also invented a nonexistent research assistant.

Although psychologists are embarrassed to talk about it now, Burt was (before Kamin exposed him) quite prominent in the field. He was not at all a marginal figure: His faked results were a standard in the field, and were incorporated into many widely used textbooks. Burt received high professional honors, and was knighted in his Britain, and given an award by the American Psychological Association.

The Bell Curve was an attempt to revive the genetic argument, after enough years have gone by that people have forgotten about Burt.
John W. Farley
Professor of Physics UNLV

13 Dec 2000
I enjoy and approve of most of your site with the exception of the entry on intelligence and race. Consider this opening paragraph:

"IQ" stands for 'intelligence quotient.' A person's IQ is supposed to be a measure of that person's intelligence: the higher the IQ number, the greater the intelligence.' This is inaccurate, however, since it assumes that there is only one kind of intelligence.

Straw-man time!!! The remark that IQ assumes only one kind of intelligence is utterly false. How is it possible you could make such a statement? IQ tests measure a wide range of cognitive skills. You know this full well. Generally, most experts agree that the only things IQ test do not adequately measure are "creativity" and emotional sensitivity. Musical and some aspects visual art skills might also be inadequately valued. Memory, especially long term may also be neglected.

One of the strongest pieces of evidence of the race/IQ link is something as simple as the relationship to brain size, IQ and race. It's a taboo to talk about it but the relationships are well established. Finally, if you broaden the definition of IQ to include the overlooked skills, do you really think you can offset the wide racial gap? No one has been able to do it yet. One of the more pathetic attempts has been to include something called "kinesthetics" to give Blacks who can dance and play sports well, an edge. What a pathetic thing to imagine Black kids "studying" for an IQ test on a playground and dance hall, instead of a library.

John Field

reply: I've seen this kind of reasoning on the David Duke page. But you probably know that it is not how big it is, but what you do with it that matters. Anyway, big is a relative thing. Brain mass is smaller in women than in men, but not in ratio to body weight. (Why doesn't an elephant's big brain translate into big intelligence? Because the big brain is needed to control those massive muscles and handle the enormous potential for sensation from the huge skin area, etc.) Men and women score about the same on IQ tests. It is probably pointless to direct you to Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man where these notions about race and brain size are evaluated and dismissed. (I think you meant to say that it is taboo to claim that there is a connection between racial brain size and racial intelligence, not that it is taboo to talk about these relationships. Gould certainly talks about these relationships. He just doesn't agree with people like you and J. Philippe Rushton). But, let's assume for the sake of argument that you and the scholars who attack Gould are right.

Even if it were true that one race has a smaller brain by some sort of measurement, what would follow from that? Nothing much. And even if it were true that one race were found to be less intelligent by some measurement than others, what would follow from that? Even if it is true that American blacks score on average about 15 points below so-called "whites," what follows from that? 

Do you think it follows that "superior" races are justified in enslaving "inferior" races? Are they justified in treating them as sub-humans? Are they justified in denying them equal protection of the laws? On what grounds? Even if an entire race or gender had smaller brains and IQs than other races and the other gender, it would not follow from that that a given individual of that race and gender had a smaller brain or lower IQ than a given individual of other races or the other gender.

I have never heard a white supremacist claim that it is justifiable to discriminate against whites whose IQs or brain size is smaller than other whites. Why not? Shouldn't there be a hierarchy of discrimination among whites themselves? The one with the biggest brain and highest IQ should get to discriminate against everybody else, while those below should get to discriminate against all those below them. And shouldn't it be justifiable for blacks with bigger brains or higher IQs to discriminate against whites with smaller brains or lower IQs?

By the way, how do you explain the fact that black northerners scored higher on IQ tests than white southerners when soldiers were recruited and tested during WWII? (Bergen Evans, The Natural History of Nonsense (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957), ch. 14, "The Skin Game.")

Finally, does IQ measure one kind of intelligence? It seems that people who are probably your heroes, like Arthur Jensen and Chris Brand, use the tern "g factor" to mean "general intelligence" and they think that IQ tests measure this g factor, though defining it in a clear way has proved difficult.

p.s. A straw man is a kind of argument used in a refutation wherein one distorts an opponent's position or argument in order to make it easier to refute. You are guilty of the fallacy of false charge of a straw man. The next time you think someone is wrong, you should simply say "I think you are wrong" or "You are wrong and here is the evidence to prove it." Falsely charging people of straw man is a red herring unworthy of man with a g factor like yours. If you like fallacies, you might take some time to study the fallacy of division. This is the fallacy of reasoning that a property which belongs to a class or group also belongs to each individual in the class or group. You may belong to a group that has a higher IQ or larger average brain size, but you may have a low IQ and have a small brain. Nevertheless, we should treat you with the respect due every human being until you behave in such a way that justifies our treating you differently.

John Field replies

Women's brains are smaller in part because they have smaller body mass, as you say. But women have a lower ratio of high neuron-density body tissue than men . That is, the lower demand for neuron service by their already smaller brains (due to smaller general body mass) is depressed *further* by the fact that their body tissue is disproportionately greater for low neuron-density tissue such as bone, fatty tissue and breast tissue, as compared to muscle tissue. Sexual sensory neurons (in the brain as well as the genetailia [sic]) for females also are less numerous. Furthermore, females score slightly lower on IQ tests due to their marginally weaker symbolic reasoning , and weaker spatial relationship comprehension and weaker physical coordination, all of which might be expected to be reflected in less brain tissue.

Bob Carroll replies

1) Women have greater, not lower, neuron density than men. 2) Women score about the same as men on IQ tests because IQ tests are designed that way. 3) In The g Factor - The Science of Mental Ability Arthur Jensen reports on his factor analysis of a ton of data and concluded: "The sex difference in psychometric g is either totally nonexistent or is of uncertain direction and inconsequential magnitude."

In addition to The g Factor - The Science of Mental Ability, you might want to read Gender mender by Dan Seligman. His article addresses the question "Are Men More Intelligent than Women?"

More John Field

Interspecific comparisons are much less meaningful than intra specific comparisons. Highly intelligent elephants could be expected to have larger brains than dull elephants, after adjusting for differences in relative body mass, just as highly intelligent humans have larger brains than dull humans, after appropriate body mass adjustments.

I read [Gould's Mismeasure of Man]. It's bogus. You need to read "The Mismeasure of Gould" - It is a scholarly debunking of the ideologue that Gould is....He is not much respected in the field of psychometrics. You might even consider a page at your site debunking him....He's a PC ideologue. And he's been caught in dishonesties....

The measurements [of brain size] are straightforward; cranial capacity and organ mass - both easily determined by NMR [Nuclear Magnetic Resonance].

What follows [from one race having bigger brains than another race] is the suggestion that the smaller brains of the race in question would have less functionality, as would be expected for any other organs of smaller mass, e.g., smaller hearts, livers and lungs; all could be expected to function, on an absolute quantitative scale, more modestly.

There is no "if" about [some races having smaller brains and being less intelligent].... Blacks on average, measure dramatically less intelligent, with all that fairly means and implies. The results are manifest and glaring, in this society and in all others on earth. It is a fact of life you need to come to terms with in an intellectually honest and courageous way. It's essential, because the truth of the race/IQ/intelligence link will be incontrovertibly established with ongoing genome research. Science can be slowed, but not stopped by ideology.

The disparity is unquestioned among researchers. In the second place, the definitional issue of "whites" or "blacks" is of no import, since the majorities of each group are outside any ambiguous gray area. And the grey area (persons of mixed race), when considered, reinforces the validity of IQ/race linkages because the spread of the IQ differences correlates proportionally with the degree of racial intermixing. This is why mulattoes score higher, on average, than dark skinned Blacks, but lower than Whites. What the difference in race-linked deficiency in intelligence means is simply that they are seriously less intelligent, as IQ fairly measures broad (if not perfectly all inclusive) intellectual ability. There is plenty of research to demonstrate the great adaptive value that a fifteen point edge provides in the modern civilized world. The gap shows up in every imaginable aspect of Black culture except for musical and kinesethic skills. And it exists for all Black cultures everywhere on the planet and throughout human and history. (Please do not cite bogus Egyptology or Nubian Empire myths.) It reasonably accounts for their failure to adapt to modern society in America, as well as in any-and-all other mixed cultures. The comparison of Black nations to non Black nations, speaks for itself. Even the diversity ideals of Brazil and Cuba show a disparity in social adjustment along the B/W race and IQ-specific lines. There are no general exceptions, only individual ones.

[ Are "superior" races are justified in enslaving "inferior" races?] No, not any more than low intelligence is justification for mistreatment for any group or individual.

[Are they justified in treating them as sub-humans?] No. Not in my opinion. But the problem with low black IQ is compounded by their at least equally debilitating cultural deficiencies. The term "Sub human" is terribly loaded and exaggerates the cultural and IQ differences for the purpose of dehumanizing them, as a group. What they are in reality, is a variety of humans with somewhat less sophisticated brain function, and a less adaptive culture, as a group.

[Are they justified in denying them equal protection of the laws?] Not in my opinion. On the contrary, I prefer strict equality of treatment regardless of race or excuses based on race. By this I mean no "affirmative action" with its double-speak for "leveling the playing field" by making it unlevel in their favor; aka "reverse discrimination"....judging people as individuals is the fairest policy. Don't you agree? One of the great injustices of ignoring the intelligence deficit as the cause for Blacks' maladjustment is that it falsely implies blame on White people, as in "four hindered [sic] years of discrimination" and "white privilege" or "racism".

Bob Carroll replies

You have already established above, in your claims about male/female differences, how accurate your claims are, so I am not going to bother with a point-by-point correction of your inaccuracies and falsehoods on race differences. 

However, your insinuation that affirmative action programs are not a response to two hundred plus years of slavery, one-hundred plus years of segregation and invidious discrimination, racism and white privilege is as about as far from the truth as Mars is from Alpha Centauri. 

It is a shame that people like Ward Connerly cannot oppose preferential treatment programs without being called an Uncle Tom and that whites cannot oppose them without being called racists. But the fact is that those programs are a direct result of centuries of oppression, much of it at the hands of the United States Congress and U.S. Supreme Court, as well as at the hands of many state and local governments.

More John Field

....white supremacists, like most people everywhere *do* "discriminate" on the basis of intelligence. That's exactly what aptitude and admissions tests are meant to do. This is necessary to advance our civilization. It's called "meritocracy."

 ....There is...a hierarchy of discrimination among whites themselves The brightest people go to Berkeley and Stanford and get the best jobs and highest social prestige. The slightly less bright go to UCLA, and then San Francisco State, then City and Community Colleges, then semiskilled or unskilled trades, then sheltered employment settings. I'd call that a "hierarchy" wouldn't you?

A Black math teacher who flunks a white student discriminates against whites with smaller brains or lower IQs...(But of course, the more familiar juxtaposition is many times more likely for reasons herein presented).

Bob Carroll replies

I thought it was clear we were talking about invidious discrimination, not the kind of discrimination any thoughtful and reasonable person might use in making decisions. In any case, your examples of a meritocracy are just as much examples of a plutocracy. 

More John Field

One explanation [for the fact that black northerners scored higher on IQ tests than white southerners when soldiers were recruited and tested during WWII] is that much of the cream of Southern White elite was killed off in the Civil War, where the mortality rate was much higher for NCOs and commissioned officers (high IQ types) than for enlisted men. Another reason is that military service for Blacks in the 1940's was seen within their culture as something of a status symbol, attracting the brighter blacks, while the stoop laborers were generally considered less desirable by the recruiters. In other words, Blacks generally had to have a little more on the ball than their racial/ demographic cohorts to get accepted. Yet another explanation is the explanation which accounts for why northern Blacks (on average) score higher than southern Blacks. Which is related to the explanation as to why rural people everywhere (on average) score lower than urban people regardless of race.

Bob Carroll replies

No one can accuse you of lacking imagination, but if you think too deeply about your last claim you might see why some people think the environment plays a significant role in test scores.

More John Field

The fact that a clear quantitative definition for "g" is not easy to formulate does not diminish it's reality one iota. Whatever you call it, even in the most general terms, like "higher brain function", it is still an obvious and powerful assembly of cognitive functions. It distinguishes the brightest from the dullest. You *do* appreciate that, don't you? There are sweet people who are dull, but *bright* people who are sweet, too, and they are the superior people, for that reason, in general, are they not? Test scores measure it and it correlates very highly with educational success, social adaptability.

Bob Carroll replies

Now here we have an example of a straw man, John. I never denied the reality of g. What I said was that those who use the term have difficulty in defining exactly what it is and that, whatever it is, it is some sort of "general intelligence." I don't deny its importance or its correlation with such things as educational success. What I deny is that g is the only kind of intelligence there is.

More John Field

I think your lead-in remarks met the definition [of straw man] by falsely implying an erroneous position held by me and/or others. That position, again, was that IQ does not represent a wide variety of cognitive skills. No informed person believes that, so why set it up if not for the purpose of easily knocking it down? Yes, I'd call that a straw man.

Bob Carroll replies

I said IQ represents one kind of intelligence, not that it doesn't measure several distinct skills (verbal, mathematical and spatial).

More John Field

The application of that fallacy [of division] test does not refute the fact that exceptions to rules do not necessarily invalidate the rules.

....remember, race correlates with IQ, IQ correlates with intelligence, which correlates with social adaptivity, which correlates with behavior and attitudes, which correlate with crime, poverty, hostility, and failure.

Bob Carroll replies

And what follows from that, John? No, please, don't answer. Take it as a rhetorical question. I think you've said enough and I'm going to leave well enough alone.

Well, actually, I can't resist one or two more comments.

I have noticed a significant difference in head size between men and women, but I sure haven't noticed a significant difference among Asians (who are supposedly walking around with the biggest heads), Caucasians and Negroids. If there are racial size differences, they are subtle. But of course I may just not know how to classify people correctly.

What happened to your earlier attitude of let's treat everyone individually and on their merits? If you really believed that I don't think you'd be going around measuring everybody's head. ooops, straw man again. I guess I just can't help myself.

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