Race, Gender, And Intelligence

Over at Genetic Future, Daniel is asking whether scientists should study race and IQ. The topic is taken on in the most recent issue of Nature here and here and it's a conversation that resurfaces now and then among various colleagues in genetics: If there might be associations between gender or race and intelligence, should scientists look for them?

But before delving into ethics, I expect it would be extremely challenging to 1. define all of the above 2. extricate societal, financial, and environmental influences 3. account for even subconscious observer bias. So what are we really after here? 

In a climate of limited budgets, I'd rather see funding for more immediate global concerns like improving agricultural yield, preparing for climate change, and mitigating the impacts of ocean acidification.  And no, it's not comparing apples and oranges.  It's dollars and a collective future.  A glance at the number of digits in NOAA's budget and you'll understand what I'm getting at--something's wrong when such a vital agency is so overlooked that it's never even been authorized by Congress.

In other words, I'd like to see us prioritize the applications of what we're investigating.

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ah Sheril, As usual the voice of reason.

I agree with this wholeheartedly. Every part.

There obviously has to be a balance. One cannot fund only that research that is practical or even pressing. I personally believe that in terms of funding, climate change should be given higher priority over race and IQ, but I also think that the essence of scientific thinking is free and untrammeled inquiry in each and every field, and surely in a field such as race and IQ research which, when researched carefully, could shed crucial insights on the human mind, nature and evolution. In the end one has to be supportive of every field of science for its own sake, even if in practice one would need to prioritize. As one of the sages of science said:

âThere must be no barriers for freedom of inquiry. There is no place for dogma in science. The scientist is free, and must be free to ask any question, to doubt any asssertion, to seek for any evidence, to correct any errors.â- J. Robert Oppenheimer

Indeed, we need to be free to ask any question and seek any evidence, and we need to always strive to maintain this hard-won freedom. Jefferson's quote about the price of liberty being eternal vigilance is as true in science as in other aspects of life.

It seems to me that organic acts for both NOAA and EPA would be logical parts of a major environmental/energy conservation bill that could be forthcoming in the Obama administration.

"In a climate of limited budgets, I'd rather see funding for more immediate global concerns like improving agricultural yield, preparing for climate change, and mitigating the impacts of ocean acidification. And no, it's not comparing apples and oranges. It's dollars and a collective future."

In total agreement. I'm actually fine with funding research into the genetics of race and IQ if a case can be made that it will provide valuable information (don't know enough about to know whether that case has been made or not), but what's the point if all races and people of all intelligences who might be affected by the results are struggling equally to feed themselves?

I completely agree. Of course, I also think no "wasteful spending" should be funded till we've cured AIDS and cancer and solved climate change. I'll go further: since we're tooth-combing so fine, really trying to keep dollar costs down, I recommend we stop chewing gum till we've solved our oil dependency problems and balanced the budget. /sarcasm

I doubt it costs even ten million a year to study race and gender questions, and I'll bet interested private parties will foot the bill if the state refuses to allow tenured professors to ask this particular question. Rose is honest about his motives; this, meanwhile, is mere post-facto rationalization. Whatever the truth of the matter is re scientists studying dangerous questions, this certainly isn't good reasoning.

If there might be associations between gender or race and intelligence, should scientists look for them?

But before delving into ethics, I expect it would be extremely challenging to 1. define all of the above

totally. until D can can tell me how anyone plans to do that, the idea of this study is bogus.

andrea - I haven't the foggiest, though science often seems to muddle along reasonably well without precisely defining terms. I said the expenditure argument is bogus. Money isn't an unusually interesting factor here, at least I fail to see why it should be. Conclusions aren't the same thing as reasons :)

I doubt that you will find many people claiming that a race intelligence project is a priority. The question is whether the funding argument is the most relevant. The necessary data to answer the question will probably be derived from separate studies funded for other reasons (multilocus analysis studies of whole genome sequence data from thousands of individuals worldwide). Perhaps a researcher might want to look at whether intelligence is linked with something like height or another phenotype or genetic marker should we prevent this question being asked simply because it opens up a politically dangerous option of also looking at the association with particular populations?
By the way, climate change is very low on the publics priority list for research.

The point of these nature articles, Daniel's post, and my post on the same topic is NOT that this sort of research should be a funding priority. I completely agree that there are other things that are more pressing- my own research on shark conservation ecology, for example.

The point of our posts is that we shouldn't not study something because it's unpopular. The point is that things shouldn't be off-limits to science because they're not politically correct, or because people might get offended.

Despite the misleading name, IQ was not designed nor is it accepted by the field of psychology to measure intelligence. Indeed, although the test was the brainchild of Alfred Binet, it was named William Stern - Binet never intended his test to measure intelligence. It was simply to identify students in peril of academic failure (who he argued would benefit from remedial education).

Binet wrote: "The scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measure of intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured."

IQ continues to (quite accurately) predict the likelihood of academic success. The correlations between IQ and various school test scores run quite high: .81 for the American SAT and .82 for the British GCSE.

Intelligence may be a concept for the theoretician, but predicting how likely someone is to succeed in school is in the realm of applied sciences. What could be a more global concern than the apparent disparity in our ability to educate people of different groups?

By IQ Defender (not verified) on 19 Feb 2009 #permalink