On the one hand I will grant that most bloggers should adopt Andrew Sullivan’s principle of giving every possible perspective a fair hearing. However, it is impossible to describe Sullivan’s airing of the Charles Murray Bell Curve stuff about race and intelligence as simply as that. Sullivan uses a different writing style for the smaller number of issues that he clearly supports and cares about. Again, marshaling evidence in long, frequent posts and answering critics with counterarguments are signs of good blogging, not bad, but you cannot do that and claim to be impartial. Andrew at least wants readers to respect the perspective that races not only can have different intellectual capacities but that inborn difference helps the racial stratification of American society.
Thankfully the debate mostly died out some time ago for lack of new things to say. Now, however, the issue has currency again, although not for the reasons that Doug covered below, to which Andrew responded here. Instead the new ideas come from science and, at least indirectly, from the rise of Barack Obama.
Normally I would turn on my microscope and forget about blogs for the day, but Andrew’s response to Doug indicates that someone should take another whack at Chas Murray’s zombie idea (emphasis mine).
If anything, the evidence that cognitive skills have much more influence on income and success in this advanced global economy than in previous times when other skills were more valuable suggests that we need to focus on education more, not less. But intelligence is not infinitely alterable. My point was that growing inequality will be very, very hard to prevent or restrain in the face of these factors.
It would be generous to assume that race has nothing to do with this point. However, given that both Doug and Andrew specifically reference Murray, it is hard to avoid the racial undercurrent to Andrew’s point that some classes of people (the intellectually infirm, if you will) should accept inequality as natural. There is not much arguing with the general idea, certainly not while George H.W.’s idiot kid still has White House dirt on his loafers. The racial aspect, however, could use new data.
Maybe I can help. Here are three studies of recent vintage, all of which boil down to the point that the cultural expectation of failure has a tangible effect on real success (listen, for example, to this episode of the awesome Radio Lab).
* A small study found that Obama’s success almost erased the racial testing difference in a demographically matched sample of urban public school students. To his credit Andrew linked this study. However, it remains unpublished (as far as I know) and thus is the weakest of the lot.
* Before that, Claude Steele found that he could create or eliminate a racial testing gap simply by convincing students that the test was (gap) or was not a test of intelligence (no gap).
* Another recent study:
Short writing assignments in which students discuss their most cherished value may be a powerful new tool to help struggling black youths reduce stress and boost their grades, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.[…] “For these children, there was an increase of almost half a grade point (0.4 grade points) in their overall grade point average across two years (based on a 4.0 scale),” he said. […] The writing assignments had only a marginal effect on high-achieving black students and no effect on white students of European descent. He said there were too few Asian-American or Hispanic students to study.
Add this work together and it becomes hard to avoid the conclusion that cultural prejudices explain more than just a part of racial testing differences in America. It’s all there is. Speaking as a guy who broke the IQ test as a nine year old (after a while the tester said there wasn’t much point going on) and therefore would be thrilled if IQ did guarantee wealth and fame, I think that the test is mostly bogus as a metric with which to compare people. For one thing it is too culturally specific. For another, see above.
For a third thing, does a field exist where IQ ensures success? Here in research science someone has a losing hand if he comes to the table with pure wattage and the next guy brings a mix of confidence, judgment, political skill, patience and time management. Carnegie Mellon, one of my degree institutions, struggles with fundraising because it graduates the bright guys in business (analysts and CFOs) whereas Harvard graduates dim but savvy players who become CEO. Naturally Harvard has an endowment that could drown Scrooge McDuck. For some reason the NFL still screens quarterbacks for IQ even though some of the greatest arms in history are dumb as a post*.
It seems fortuitous that the qualities we grow by fixing the racial achievement gap promote success in life above and beyond a dry number like IQ. Conversely the idea that minorities cannot fix the gap is not only wrong, but cruel, because as long as it persists it has the pernicious effect of making itself true.
(*) John – do not read.
John pointed out to me that Mat Taibbi made a related argument in this DiSantis-inspired rant for the ages.