Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Thomas Sowell on IQ and Race

 

In the thread below, “Derbyshire Speaks,” Ricochet member Mark Wilson provides a link to an item I believe deserves everyone’s attention: Thomas Sowell on IQ and race. When Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein published the The Bell Curve almost ten years ago, Dr. Sowell wrote a review in the American Spectator

What did Thomas Sowell make of the book? He took it apart.

If you can spare ten minutes for close argument, be sure to read the entire review. But–with thanks once again to Mark Wilson–here’s a hefty, and, to my mind, utterly compelling, excerpt:

[Herrnstein and Murray] seem to conclude… that… biological inheritance of IQ… among members of the general society may also explain IQ differences between different racial and ethnic groups…. Such a conclusion goes… much beyond what the facts will support….

[T]he greatest black-white differences are not on the questions which presuppose middle-class vocabulary or experiences, but on abstract questions such as spatial perceptual ability…. [Herrnstein and Murray’s] conclusion that this “phenomenon seems peculiarly concentrated in comparisons of ethnic groups” is simply wrong. When European immigrant groups in the United States scored below the national average on mental tests, they scored lowest on the abstract parts of those tests. So did white mountaineer children in the United States tested back in the early 1930s. So did canal boat children in Britain, and so did rural British children compared to their urban counterparts, at a time before Britain had any significant non-white population. So did Gaelic-speaking children as compared to English-speaking children in the Hebrides Islands. This is neither a racial nor an ethnic peculiarity. It is a characteristic found among low-scoring groups of European as well as African ancestry.

In short, groups outside the cultural mainstream of contemporary Western society tend to do their worst on abstract questions, whatever their race might be….

Perhaps the strongest evidence against a genetic basis for intergroup differences in IQ is that the average level of mental test performance has changed very significantly for whole populations over time and, moreover, particular ethnic groups within the population have changed their relative positions during a period when there was very little intermarriage to change the genetic makeup of these groups….

Perhaps the most dramatic changes were those in the mental test performances of Jews in the United States. The results of World War I mental tests conducted among American soldiers born in Russia–the great majority of whom were Jews–showed such low scores as to cause Carl Brigham, creator of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, to declare that these results “disprove the popular belief that the Jew is highly intelligent.” Within a decade, however, Jews in the United States were scoring above the national average on mental tests, and the data in The Bell Curveindicate that they are now far above the national average in IQ.

Strangely, Herrnstein and Murray refer to “folklore” that “Jews and other immigrant groups were thought to be below average in intelligence. ” It was neither folklore nor anything as subjective as thoughts. It was based on hard data, as hard as any data in The Bell Curve. These groups repeatedly tested below average on the mental tests of the World War I era, both in the army and in civilian life. For Jews, it is clear that later tests showed radically different results–during an era when there was very little intermarriage to change the genetic makeup of American Jews….

Herrnstein and Murray openly acknowledge such rises in IQ….But they seem not to see how crucially it undermines the case for a genetic explanation of interracial IQ differences. They say:

“The national averages have in fact changed by amounts that are comparable to the fifteen or so IQ points separating blacks and whites in America. To put it another way, on the average, whites today differ from whites, say, two generations ago as much as whites today differ from blacks today. Given their size and speed, the shifts in time necessarily have been due more to changes in the environment than to changes in the genes.”

While this open presentation of evidence against the genetic basis of interracial IQ differences is admirable, the failure to draw the logical inference seems puzzling. Blacks today are just as racially different from whites of two generations ago as they are from whites today. Yet the data suggest that the number of questions that blacks answer correctly on IQ tests today is very similar to the number answered correctly by past generations of whites. If race A differs from race B in IQ, and two generations of race A differ from each other by the same amount, where is the logic in suggesting that the IQ differences are even partly racial?

Where indeed is the logic–the word bears repeating: the logic–in suggesting that IQ differences are even partly racial?

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  1. Glenn the Iconoclast Member
    Glenn the Iconoclast Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Herrnstein and Murray said on p. 311:

    If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanation has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate.

    I don’t know that a book review can ever be completely fair to an author; it is always necessary for the consumer to read the book in order to form his own opinion of the authors’ material.

    • #1
    • April 11, 2012, at 1:33 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  2. outstripp Inactive

    In 1967 Newsweek published a long article entitled “what must be done” — an agenda for dealing with racism in America. In that article they acknowledged the well-established fact that American blacks have an average IQ of 85.

    • #2
    • April 11, 2012, at 3:16 AM PDT
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  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    In trying to decide whether or not to buy the book, I read this review first.

    Another excerpt:

    A remarkable phenomenon commented on in the Moynihan report of thirty years ago goes unnoticed in The Bell Curve–the prevalence of females among blacks who score high on mental tests. Others who have done studies of high- IQ blacks have found several times as many females as males above the 120 IQ level. Since black males and black females have the same genetic inheritance, this substantial disparity must have some other roots, especially since it is not found in studies of high-IQ individuals in the general society, such as the famous Terman studies, which followed high-IQ children into adulthood and later life. If IQ differences of this magnitude can occur with no genetic difference at all, then it is more than mere speculation to say that some unusual environmental effects must be at work among blacks.

    I didn’t end up buying The Bell Curve. I did however develop the habit of buying and reading Dr. Sowell’s books.

    • #3
    • April 11, 2012, at 3:45 AM PDT
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  4. Tenther Inactive
    Leslie Katz:

    Nonetheless, I find myself wondering why black Americans have found themselves so unable to work positive change in their community. · 4 hours ago

    No sooner had blacks rid themselves of segregation than America dreamed up “the War on Drugs” and used it as an excuse to constantly harass and incarcerate young black men for victimless crimes–this even though illegal drug usage rates are essentially the same in white and black communities. Maybe we should just leave them alone for a while and let them work out their own problems–you know, local control. We might be surprised at the results.

    • #4
    • April 11, 2012, at 4:28 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  5. Basil Fawlty Coolidge
    Basil Fawlty Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Tenther
    Leslie Katz:

    Nonetheless, I find myself wondering why black Americans have found themselves so unable to work positive change in their community. · 4 hours ago

    No sooner had blacks rid themselves of segregation than America dreamed up “the War on Drugs” and used it as an excuse to constantly harass and incarcerate young black men for victimless crimes–this even though illegal drug usage rates are essentially the same in white and black communities. Maybe we should just leave them alone for a while and let them work out their own problems–you know, local control. We might be surprised at the results. · 2 minutes ago

    Was this before or after America invented AIDS?

    • #5
    • April 11, 2012, at 4:41 AM PDT
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  6. Tenther Inactive
    Basil Fawlty
    Tenther

    No sooner had blacks rid themselves of segregation than America dreamed up “the War on Drugs” and used it as an excuse to constantly harass and incarcerate young black men for victimless crimes–this even though illegal drug usage rates are essentially the same in white and black communities. Maybe we should just leave them alone for a while and let them work out their own problems–you know, local control. We might be surprised at the results. · 2 minutes ago

    Was this before or after America invented AIDS? · 1 minute ago

    Who needs AIDS when you’ve got the War on Drugs, the Great Society, the Community Reinvestment Act etc? That’s big government doing more harm than good. Conservatives should be for leaving well-enough alone.

    • #6
    • April 11, 2012, at 4:48 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  7. Palaeologus Inactive
    Tenther
    Leslie Katz:

    Nonetheless, I find myself wondering why black Americans have found themselves so unable to work positive change in their community. · 4 hours ago

    No sooner had blacks rid themselves of segregation than America dreamed up “the War on Drugs” and used it as an excuse to constantly harass and incarcerate young black men for victimless crimes–this even though illegal drug usage rates are essentially the same in white and black communities. 

    Do you happen to have any evidence to support these claims?

    • #7
    • April 11, 2012, at 5:07 AM PDT
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  8. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thomas Sowell’s life is a gift to all of us.

    • #8
    • April 11, 2012, at 5:09 AM PDT
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  9. Ultron Will Inject You Now Coolidge
    Ultron Will Inject You Now Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Where indeed is the logic–the word bears repeating: the logic–in suggesting that IQ differences are even partly racial?

    Because it can support two conclusions: one is that we’re doomed (The Derbyshire Doomsday Hypothesis, minus Mark Steyn’s cocktails at 5 minutes to Midnight) the other is that we have to do something for our less fortunate brethren (The Murray Hypothesis).

    The Liberalist Hypothesis is that we’re doomed if we vote Rethuglican, and the only way to help our less fortunate brethren is for Emperor Barack of Washington to assume total emergency control of golf courses and expensive resort chalets to ensure the survival of the non Republic and to abort the unfortunate mistakes made by our less fortunate brethren.

    • #9
    • April 11, 2012, at 5:10 AM PDT
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  10. Basil Fawlty Coolidge
    Basil Fawlty Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Tenther
    Basil Fawlty
    Tenther

    No sooner had blacks rid themselves of segregation than America dreamed up “the War on Drugs” and used it as an excuse to constantly harass and incarcerate young black men for victimless crimes–this even though illegal drug usage rates are essentially the same in white and black communities. Maybe we should just leave them alone for a while and let them work out their own problems–you know, local control. We might be surprised at the results. · 2 minutes ago

    Was this before or after America invented AIDS? · 1 minute ago

    Who needs AIDS when you’ve got the War on Drugs, the Great Society, the Community Reinvestment Act etc? That’s big government doing more harm than good. Conservatives should be for leaving well-enough alone. · 11 minutes ago

    I’m with you on the Great Society, Community Reinvestment Act, Etc. The War on Drugs, not so much. A drug-addled population isn’t really “well-enough” for me, and I’d distinguish law enforcement programs from the others you mentioned.

    • #10
    • April 11, 2012, at 5:22 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. Tenther Inactive
    Basil Fawlty

    I’m with you on the Great Society, Community Reinvestment Act, Etc. The War on Drugs, not so much. A drug-addled population isn’t really “well-enough” for me, and I’d distinguish law enforcement programs from the others you mentioned. · 2 minutes ago

    I’m not debating the goodness or badness or illegal drugs, but it seems to me that it’s a problem if two communities have the same drug usage rates, but only one suffers from constant, invasive policing as a result. Maybe it’s bad that lots of white suburban kids use drugs, but if so, why don’t we constantly frisk them and throw them in jail for it?

    • #11
    • April 11, 2012, at 5:29 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  12. Tenther Inactive
    Palaeologus
    Tenther

    No sooner had blacks rid themselves of segregation than America dreamed up “the War on Drugs” and used it as an excuse to constantly harass and incarcerate young black men for victimless crimes–this even though illegal drug usage rates are essentially the same in white and black communities. 

    Do you happen to have any evidence to support these claims? · 22 minutes ago

    Not handy. I’ll post something later.

    • #12
    • April 11, 2012, at 5:32 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I just read Sowell. N.R. was certainly right to can Derbyshire.

    • #13
    • April 11, 2012, at 5:34 AM PDT
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  14. Basil Fawlty Coolidge
    Basil Fawlty Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Ansonia: I just read Sowell. N.R. was certainly right to can Derbyshire. · 3 minutes ago

    Edited 2 minutes ago

    Wouldn’t it be more effective for NR to just stop giving Murray a forum? You know, to get to the root of the racism.

    • #14
    • April 11, 2012, at 5:45 AM PDT
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  15. KC Mulville Inactive

    Where indeed is the logic–the word bears repeating: the logic–in suggesting that IQ differences are even partly racial?

    You’d have thought that if any intelligence superiority was racial, there would be some biological explanation for it. After all, the fact that IQ differs by race is only the first question; the obvious followup is to ask what it is about race that causes a difference? If there’s a racial gene (or some variable) that affects intelligence, then the next question is how the variable matters to intelligence.

    But that question doesn’t seem to get asked very often. (At least, in my limited familiarity with such discussions, I’m always waiting for that question and never get it.) It’s as if the moment one race has “evidence” that they’re more intelligent, they stop questioning because that’s the result they were looking for in the first place.

    That’s why I’m suspicious that IQ measurements have any meaning. They always seem more self-serving than revealing. And they never seem to reveal that Philadelphia Flyer fans are superior to New York Ranger fans, which we all know is true…

    • #15
    • April 11, 2012, at 5:54 AM PDT
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  16. The (apathetic) King Prawn Member

    Ok, so IQ may not be the big difference, but there still remains a big difference (though I believe it more cultural.) What is one to do when confronted with it? Do we pretend there is no difference when faced with a group of black youths, pants hanging on the ground, gang colors flying, and menacing? How did that work out for fair goers in Wisconsin last year?

    • #16
    • April 11, 2012, at 6:01 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Mel Foil Inactive

    IQ depends on genetics, but also on health, environment, and habits of thinking. Intelligence is a great thing, but without some luck (most of which we make ourselves) it doesn’t determine our success. There are a lot of fast horses that can’t win a race because they don’t have the drive.

    • #17
    • April 11, 2012, at 6:07 AM PDT
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  18. Hang On Member
    Hang On Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is why I would be interested if you would move on to Eric Hanushek because I basically see Murray as being a dead end. Same with Derbyshire. Same with Steyn. The Left is interested in nothing other than fortifying their own bastions (NEA, ATC) who are in large part a source of the problem. People like Jindal, on the other hand, are actually wanting to tear down the bastions and build something new and better.

    What Hanushek shows is that spending additional money in the current structure we have in K-12 education gets us nothing in terms of improved performance in cognitive skills. Cognitive skills are key for raising economic performance in OECD countries such as the US. Other countries, e.g., Finland, have increased their average test scores by a great deal and this has paid off in higher GDP growth. Hanushek also shows what doing such things would mean for the US economy. Jay Greene then builds on this to show what reforms get in terms of increased test performance which can be translated back into higher economic growth. A question I’ve always had is: why only K-12, why not with adults?

    • #18
    • April 11, 2012, at 6:09 AM PDT
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  19. Albert Arthur Podcaster

    Hey, just an FYI, but while the linked review by Thomas Sowell is from 2003, The Bell Curve was actually published in 1994. It’s understandable that Peter got confused because the link has “2003” in the address. Although, during the most recent Uncommon Knowledge (taped when Peter was in D.C.), Charles Murray brought up The Bell Curve and said that it had been published 18 years ago. Peter replied, “Really? I would have said 10.” :-)

    • #19
    • April 11, 2012, at 6:21 AM PDT
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  20. Mel Foil Inactive

    It would be great if every American classroom was an independent shop, and you could do that if American teachers were professionals, but they’re not. In most cases they’re like union factory workers, and resigned to being union factory workers, with about as much freedom as the the guy in a Chrysler plant that bolts on car doors.

    • #20
    • April 11, 2012, at 6:23 AM PDT
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  21. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    The post was from 2003. The review was originally published in American Spectator in 1995.

    • #21
    • April 11, 2012, at 6:29 AM PDT
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  22. Lucy Pevensie Inactive

    The one piece that is missing from all of this discussion is recent changes in our understanding of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Once entirely dismissed as Lamarckian nonsense, this idea has been revived in light of the concept of epigenetics, which states that there are heritable traits that are not transmitted in DNA, but rather in modifications of which genes are expressed. In some cases, heritability of acquired characteristics can be demonstrated. In humans, this has been seen in objectively measurable phenomena such as a tendency toward obesity in children and grandchildren of famine survivors. It seems possible, however, that this could also be expressed in IQ and behavior. 

    To me this suggests that there may be biological differences between racial groups in the US at a particular point in time, which might change dramatically over a generation or two. This, it seems to me, fits with Dr. Sowell’s observations of different IQ distributions in different ethnic groups at different times. Unfortunately, as other commenters have noted here, the black underclass in our society has been produced by the environment of the welfare state, and I think you have to change the environment to produce downstream epigenetic change.

    • #22
    • April 11, 2012, at 7:10 AM PDT
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  23. The Mugwump Inactive

    There’s a glaring error to the various postulates about race and IQ that no one has so far mentioned. The fact is that American blacks are a hybrid race – by and large a mixture of European and African blood lines. You simply can’t treat “blacks” as a monolithic gene pool when they are admixed to varying degrees with other races. The problem here is that nobody wants to return to the color codes of yesteryear when racial terms like octoroon or quadroon were acceptable. Yet, if you accept that race and IQ are related, then you are obliged to examine the genetic lineage of your subjects individually and in detail. Doing so will likely reveal new complexities. My suspicion is that when you mate two subjects of different races, you don’t get the sum of A + B. Such a coupling might very well produce the end product C, an individual with entirely new potentials. We have the human genome now documented. Let’s hear from science.

    • #23
    • April 11, 2012, at 7:12 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. The Mugwump Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie: The one piece that is missing from all of this discussion is recent changes in our understanding of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Once entirely dismissed as Lamarckian nonsense, this idea has been revived in light of the concept of epigenetics, which states that there are heritable traits that are not transmitted in DNA, but rather in modifications of which genes are expressed.

    Yes. This is the point I was trying to make above.

    • #24
    • April 11, 2012, at 7:14 AM PDT
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  25. Profile Photo Member

    Some of Thomas Sowell’s facts are wrong. Apparently he read Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man, which seems to be where he got the misinformation about immigrant Jews scoring lower on IQ tests. He also seems to be referring later to The Flynn Effect, which does not mean what he seems to think it means.

    • #25
    • April 11, 2012, at 7:18 AM PDT
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  26. Profile Photo Member

    An interesting concept to consider is “prejudice” vs “racism”. Let’s just once and for all say we’re all members of the human race, and that’s that. However, I think we all harbour certain prejudices, and if we say we don’t we are perhaps not being quite honest. If we see a guy in a suit with a briefcase collapsed on the sidewalk, we are more inclined to intervene as we may think he had a stroke or some other calamitous event (prejudgement). If we see a disheveled guy with tattered clothing collapsed on the sidewalk beside a shopping cart, we are more likely to walk by thinking he is impaired, mentally ill, etc and perhaps not in need of acute intervention (prejudgement). And so it goes with other situations. Context is everything, as it is with other fields of life.

    • #26
    • April 11, 2012, at 7:32 AM PDT
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  27. Valiuth Member
    Valiuth Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Leslie Katz: … My understanding though is that tests that are not racial suggest that IQ is in very large part hereditary.

     · 7 hours ago

    So is religion. Which if you look at the statistics is highly correlated to ones ancestry, probably even more so than IQ. Yet clearly it would be nonsense to claim that peoples religious convictions are genetically derived. That is because religious convictions are a learned trait, and what people learn is what their parents/community teaches them. IQ can also be viewed as a learned trait. We know specifically that for people to be smart and do well on IQ tests they actually have to be educated. Thus you will have a hard time separating out peoples environment from their actual genetics. Remember for something to be truly hereditary means its cause is not environmental, like hair color or blood type. 

    • #27
    • April 11, 2012, at 7:36 AM PDT
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  28. Valiuth Member
    Valiuth Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Lucy Pevensie: The one piece that is missing from all of this discussion is recent changes in our understanding of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Once entirely dismissed as Lamarckian nonsense, this idea has been revived in light of the concept of epigenetics, which states that there are heritable traits that are not transmitted in DNA, but rather in modifications of which genes are expressed. In some cases, heritability of acquired characteristics can be demonstrated. In humans, this has been seen in objectively measurable phenomena such as a tendency toward obesity in children and grandchildren of famine survivors. It seems possible, however, that this could also be expressed in IQ and behavior. 

    Funny you should mention this. But there are studies from mice showing that the ability to solve a maze can be passed down to the next generation. Thus a mouse that learned to solve the maze produced children that could solve the maze more effectively on a first try. The only catch was that the 2nd generation mice quickly lost this ability compared to other mice. There is also no evidence to show that these acquired traits can persist past one or two generations. 

    • #28
    • April 11, 2012, at 7:45 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Profile Photo Member
    Valiuth

    So is religion. Which if you look at the statistics is highly correlated to ones ancestry, probably even more so than IQ. Yet clearly it would be nonsense to claim that peoples religious convictions are genetically derived. That is because religious convictions are a learned trait, and what people learn is what their parents/community teaches them. IQ can also be viewed as a learned trait. We know specifically that for people to be smart and do well on IQ tests they actually have to be educated. Thus you will have a hard time separating out peoples environment from their actual genetics. Remember for something to be truly hereditary means its cause is not environmental, like hair color or blood type. · 11 minutes ago

    Studies of identical twins raised apart try to get at some of these points you raise, and generally find that almost every personality trait has a very strong genetic basis, and IQ more than most. In your example, specific religious convictions are learned, but “religiosity” is highly heritable/genetic.

    • #29
    • April 11, 2012, at 7:50 AM PDT
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  30. Yeah...ok. Inactive

    Where indeed is the logic–the word bears repeating: the logic–in suggesting that IQ differences are even partly racial?

    Does it then follow that IQ differences can not be racial?

    • #30
    • April 11, 2012, at 7:55 AM PDT
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