At this point, there's no need to recount the details of James Watson's transgression in England, and subsequent "retirement" from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in the wake of his comments regarding intelligence in Africa. I may have little to add on this topic, but I would like to toss my own small pebble into the water and hear the splash.
First, the claim that IQs in Africa, are, on average, lower than those in the Western World, and indeed, lower than those found globally, is from a scientific and statistical standpoint, about as conclusively confirmed as anything one could claim about human populations. IQ, which of course is an abbreviation of intelligence quotient, is a numerical score on an examination of intelligence. To be precise (or if you prefer, to split hairs) the question of what is meant by "intelligence" is one at least partially removed from the score a person receives on a given exam. To say that a math student received a score of 74 on a math exam neither validates nor invalidates the exam's accuracy in gauging comprehension of the math concepts in question. The score is simply the score; the exam itself may be good, bad, or somewhere in between.
While one may argue that a given IQ test, or all IQ tests, fail to accurately measure intelligence, there is the small problem that scores on validated and accepted IQ tests correlate quite strongly with academic outcomes, and, in the more complex professions particularly, such as law, engineering, and medicine, with professional outcomes. In other words, IQ tests do genuinely evaluate something closely-related to the capacity for complex thought. If the term "intelligence" is seen as too broad or imprecise, we could simply change the name to cognition quotient, rational-analysis quotient, intellectual-reasoning quotient. Whatever we call such tests, they have a by now well established capacity to measure general mental aptitude, and of course, there is a term for this as well, g. If you are interested in pursuing this point further, Jason Malloy, who writes at Gene Expression, has a rather long and detailed analysis of the completely uncontroversial (from a scientific standpoint) nature of Watson's recent claims. If I may be allowed to cite some information from Malloy's work:
Below I am adding 65 psychometric intelligence study citations for sub-Saharan Africa, collected in IQ & Global Inequality, Race Differences in Intelligence, and IQ & the Wealth of Nations. The citations cover 47% of SS African countries or 78% of the people by national population numbers. The studies vary in quality, sample size, and representativeness, but broadly agree in their findings. Representative studies of the school age population with large sample sizes do not exhibit higher scores, much less scores that approach anything like European norms.
W/ data: 20 (47% coun/78% pop)
W/ Data: 6 (30% coun/65% pop)
W/ Data: 3 (60% coun/80% pop)
W/ Data: 5 (63% coun/93% pop)
W/ Data: 6 (60% coun/76% pop)
For purposes of comparison, here are, by nation (although Hong Kong is not a nation), the top 50 average scores. The averages, of course, include all population groups within the nation. In other, words the average for Australia is comprised not only of scores for white Australians, but for all racial groups found there.
1 Hong Kong 107
2 South Korea 106
3 Japan 105
4 Taiwan 104
5 Austria 102
6 Germany 102
7 Italy 102
8 Netherlands 102
9 Sweden 101
10 Switzerland 101
11 Belgium 100
12 People's Republic of China 100
13 New Zealand 100
14 Singapore 100
15 United Kingdom 100
16 Hungary 99
17 Poland 99
18 Spain 99
19 Australia 98
20 Denmark 98
21 France 98
22 Norway 98
23 United States 98
24 Canada 97
25 Czech Republic 97
26 Finland 97
27 Argentina 96
28 Russia 96
29 Slovakia 96
30 Uruguay 96
31 Portugal 95
32 Slovenia 95
33 Israel 94
34 Romania 94
35 Bulgaria 93
36 Ireland 93
37 Greece 92
38 Malaysia 92
39 Thailand 91
40 Croatia 90
41 Peru 90
42 Turkey 90
43 Indonesia 89
44 Suriname 89
45 Colombia 89
46 Brazil 87
47 Iraq 87
48 Mexico 87
49 Samoa 87
50 Tonga 87
With some exceptions, one may notice in these figures a fairly consistent correlation between a nation's IQ score and its level of social organization, accomplishment, and prosperity. Again, we could quibble about the meaning of "social organization," but one can see that those societies which are identified worldwide by such terms as "advanced" or "developed" generally have higher scores. I suppose the one figure that stands out for many people is Israel's surprisingly low score of 94. It must be born in mind that in the West, our well-justified impression of high IQs among Jews is based upon the performance of Ashkenazi Jews (the reigning champs) whose average, if I remember correctly, is 113. Jews of Middle Eastern and African origin, of which there are many in Israel, score not nearly so high, and of course, the country also has a large and growing Arab population.
To return to my original point, if we compare the IQ averages of such countries as Malaysia, Colombia, and my own dear Turkey, whose scores represent more or less the global average, to the scores in sub-Saharan Africa, we see a substantial falling off, thus giving rise to the doubts which James Watson expressed concerning the potential of African nations to organize their activities and educate their citizenry at levels approximating global standards, much less Western standards. While this was, in and of itself, enough to earn Watson pariah status, his comments have implications beyond the development of Africa itself, and it is perhaps these implications that make Watson's observations so controversial.
Throughout the the world, in nation after nation, there are sub populations (minorities, if you prefer), which either under perform or over perform relative to national averages. When I say under perform or over perform, I mean this in any category you care to name, academics, income, journalistic output, athletics, longevity. Throughout the world, both over and under performance demand societal explanations. People living in heterogeneous populations will observe and attempt to understand why these variances occur. This is both inevitable, and, as we know, potentially dangerous. I suspect that educated readers require no historical examples here. You are welcome to supply your own, but a crucial point to remember is that both under and over performance are noted by the population as a whole and will be explained in some manner, however accurate or fanciful.
For the past half century, the default explanation among the educated in Western societies for the under performance of certain groups, those of African descent in particular, has been the racism of the larger society, the whites in particular. I believe there is little point in questioning that blacks in America have suffered under a racial caste system, and that the low estimation of their talents and potential, both among whites and among blacks themselves, has limited their options for achievement in various ways. The gradual acceptance of the default explanation (racism) for low levels of black achievement has brought home to most Americans some awareness of these injustices.
The default explanation has also resulted in a campaign, now at least as old as the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, to rectify these injustices and grant to blacks, and all other groups, the same rights and opportunities enjoyed by the majority. This, however, has led to some new, and unanticipated problems. It is difficult enough to ensure all citizens equal rights, though such an effort is worthy of any society wishing to consider itself "civilized." In other words, hard, but worth attempting, worth striving for.
Achieving equal opportunity is considerably more problematic. First, we must distinguish between perfect equality and attainable equality. There is no conceivable social or political system which can offer perfect equality of opportunity. In searching for a job, I may know someone you don't, who can offer me a job that both you and I want. On the other hand, you may be taller, or better looking, or more gregarious than I am, and this may provide you with an edge that I lack, even if we are both equally capable of performing a given job. Inequality of opportunity, at this level, is more or less inseparable from human nature, and we shall be a long time at trying to stamp it out, though you will notice that, in many quarters, we are trying rather hard.
Finally, we come to the most unrealizable ambition, equality of outcome. According to the reigning, though admittedly, now-threatened orthodoxy, any statistical variance to be found in any population group relative to its percentage of the overall population constitutes a de facto act of favoritism or injustice. If fewer than 50% of research engineers and molecular biologists are women, this is because women have been and are now discriminated against in education and hiring. If fewer than 12% of America's nuclear physicists are black, or more than 12% of America's prison inmates are black, this constitutes damning evidence of ongoing racial inequality. And of course, these are inequalities, that is, inequalities of outcome, which differ from inequalities of opportunity, which differ from inequalities of rights.
Most Americans, I believe, still endorse equality of rights, though, even under the best achievable conditions, there will still be cases in which citizen's rights are violated. Equality of opportunity is, at best, only partly achievable, and the achievable part significantly overlaps with equality of rights. An educational institution or place of employment cannot bar you simply on the grounds of your membership in a population group. This is hardly the same thing as saying, "everybody gets a equal shot in life," because everybody doesn't get an equal shot in life, and we might as well admit it. There is only so much that we can, and should do about this, as is illustrated when we move to equality of outcomes.
To be blunt, the pursuit of equality of outcome is incompatible with freedom. You cannot uphold the freedom of people to work where and when they will, to study for eight hours a day or eight minutes a day or not at all, to spend their money as they see fit, or to hoard their money in certificates of deposit or risk their money in high-growth funds, and expect equality of outcomes. It simply can't happen, even in unusually homogeneous societies. In Japan, for example, with its near-universal ethnic background (there is a Korean sub population, but whatever) and high average IQ, some people are still smarter, or more energetic, or more curious, or more acquisitive, or more future time oriented, or more gregarious, or more attractive, or more well-connected socially, or just plain more lucky, than are others. However much the Japanese may view themselves as a collective society, and they apparently do so more than those of us in the Western world ever will, they still experience inequalities of outcome.
Here, Watson's comments are of particular relevance. The now standard explanation for the poverty and turmoil of Africa is the after-effect of European colonialism. While this explanation may have seemed sensible 50, or 40, or 30 years ago, it is less so now. If colonialism had been the cause, then as chronological distance from the cause increased, the adverse consequences should have decreased. If something is making you sick, time away from that disease agent should allow you to recover, unless you are mortally-afflicted and beyond recovery. Since within human population groups, birth and death assure that nobody experiences the direct affects of anything like slavery or colonialism forever, the effects of these influences should diminish over time. Therefore, those who maintain that European colonialism has inhibited Africa's development have been forced into increasingly tortured logic to explain how this now historical process continues to produce such disturbing, and in may cases growing, problems.
Similarly, in America, those who argue that legacy of slavery and segregation fully explains the disparities in outcome between blacks and other groups have resorted to increasingly complex, and increasingly unconvincing, explanations as to how and why these differing outcomes have occurred. Again, as the decades pass, we are confronted with a political and social doctrine which, I suspect, Americans find increasingly unbelievable. Nevertheless, to publicly question such a doctrine, even in the most tentative ways, is personally and professionally risky, as the cases of Lawrence Summers, James Watson, and others will attest.
In other words, we continue, through force of social pressure, to mouth platitudes in which we no longer believe, and are not permitted open discussion of a doctrine which a great many have reason to question. The penalty for such discussion, while no doubt less severe than in times past, is nevertheless incompatible with a free society, as demand for equality of outcome in incompatible with a free society. You cannot allow people to live life as they will, making their own choices and charting their own course, and yet secure equal outcomes for all. The two are contradictory.
There are three further points that I would like to make.
One, which I have alluded to before, is that data regarding the IQs of various populations and nationalities is volatile and potentially dangerous information, in that it does have the potential to serve as ammunition for those who advocate racial hostility and oppression, and any fair-minded person engaged in this discussion should acknowledge as much. Furthermore, it has the potential to discourage even gifted members of lower scoring population groups from developing their talents.
Whether we admit it or not, we all see ourselves not only as individuals but as members of groups, including ethnic and racial groups. If, as I am, you are a fan of the TV series Seinfeld, you may remember the episode in which George, in a bid to convince his black supervisor that he isn't racially prejudiced, goes to absurd lengths, at one point claiming that he's never noticed that his best friend Jerry is white because, "I don't see race."
This is funny because of the transparent falsity of George's claim in contrast with the utterly unattainable expectation that he "not see race" if he is to be be absolved of the charge of racism. We all see race. Within the bounds of reasonable human expectation, this is not the same thing as saying that we are all racists, though in the current climate, to admit to seeing race is enough to bring down upon one's head the suspicion of racism. It's rather like insisting that you've never noticed that a co-worker is female in order to defend yourself against a charge of sexual harassment.
The second point follows from the first. Given the volatility and potential for abuse that information about race and IQ implies, a question naturally arises: why, even if true, should we call attention to difference in IQ among populations? Why not just quietly acknowledge this reality, but conceal it as far as possible from the general consciousness (in other words, the untutored masses), so as to avoid a reversion to the Jim Crowe era of the past? This question deserves a legitimate answer. I would argue that this answer revolves around what I have termed above the "default explanation."
If you and I meet at a dinner party, and you have an advanced degree in economics and work for an investment firm and earn in excess of $500,000 per year, and I dropped out of college, work at a bookstore, and earn $20,000 per year, it is indeed crass of you to point out the intellectual demands of your training and your work, and how they are reflected in your substantial earnings. However, if, at that same dinner party, I maintain that you earn more than twenty-five times as much as I do simply because you have rigged the system in your favor, and because you are engaged in my exploitation, and because we live in a fundamentally unjust society which has pressed-ganged me into a condition of economic serfdom, then your references to the high qualifications necessary for your position take on a different hue. You either accept my default explanation, with which you probably disagree, or you present a counter-argument. The current, and increasingly unconvincing mainstream narrative on differences in racial outcomes demands a counter-explanation rooted in something other than absolute sin on the hand, and absolute self-righteousness on the other.
Furthermore, the now current mainstream narrative justifies all manner of government intrusion into the practices and lives of its citizens and institutions, and it is therefore easily understandable, though hardly desirable, that government agencies and individuals favor the institutionalization of a point of view consistent with the expansion of their powers. Again, equality of outcome as a social pursuit is utterly incompatible with freedom.
The final point is that we are frequently told that someone is to blame for the inequalities of outcome between blacks and others, and that, if we make reference to differences in IQ (by the way, the African-American IQ, at 85, is substantially higher than the African IQ) then we are, in effect, blaming blacks for their own lack of success. I disagree, in a couple of different ways. First, people want different things from life, and more importantly, are willing to make different sacrifices to pursue what they want in life. We probably really can't know how satisfied or dissatisfied a given person is with his or her "success." For example, lots of people, and I am one of them, are constitutionally incapable over the long haul of a career of sitting in a cubicle all day and interacting with a computer. I know this because I used to do this, and though I started out well enough (the intrigue of the unfamiliar) the people who eventually fired me from this job would attest to my long-term unsuitability for this work.
I was, from an intellectual standpoint, able to do the work, but I was, from a temperamental standpoint, unwilling or unable to pay the necessary price in boredom to do the work. It was best for all concerned that I drifted into something else. In other words, not everybody really wants to be a Microserf with a heavily g- loaded job. (I wasn't a Microserf, by the way, though my job had a certain meager intellectual cachet, I guess, if you'd never actually done it.)
At this same workplace, I often chatted with a black colleague who worked in the Accounting department. Though she had attained a position of considerable professional responsibility, and would have, I guess, fallen very much at the higher end of intelligence and accomplishment for African Americans, it's safe to say that she hated the place at least as much as I did.
With regard to the question of who is to blame, no one deserves credit or blame for the IQ they have. A lower-than-average IQ is not the result of laziness, and I suppose it goes without saying that we have all known people of below average intelligence who have put together admirable and satisfying lives and who contribute to the lives of others, and we've all known people of high intelligence who've manage to piss away the opportunities that this wholly-unearned biological gift has bestowed upon them. There's no reason here to go into the hows and whys of all of this, though it is interesting to speculate. Suffice it to say that an IQ score in isolation doesn't really dictate the course of one's life. Honesty, however, compels us to admit that while intelligence alone is not a sufficient condition for all that much, it is, for a great many pursuits and employments, a necessary one. This is reality.
Our attempts to grapple with this reality, particularly in the area of race, have produced outcomes both tragic and humorous. First, to the tragic, I would again encourage readers of this site to look at this article which chronicles the downfall of a University of Illinois professor of public policy, Stuart Nagel, who in class one day observed that "black businesses in Kenya were uncompetitive against Indian-run enterprises since blacks were too generous in granting credit to friends and family." Nagel had been a consultant to the government of Kenya on methods to improve business training for black Kenyans, and his comment was based upon this experience. Though he in no way touched upon the issue of intelligence among Africans, so inflamed are our sensitivities on matters of race, and so timid are our educational establishments in supporting anything approaching open inquiry and discussion, that Nagel was, rather ritualistically, I believe, sacrificed to the gods of political correctness.
Perhaps failing to see the absurdity of the whole proceeding - or seeing it all to clearly - Stuart Nagel soon thereafter committed suicide. No one who has even the slightest regard for the ostensible function of the university in our society can fail to be chilled by this episode, though evidently, a great many people working and learning in universities would simply prefer not to think about it.
For those who can - without resort to suicide - see the absurdity in such a witch hunt, and who can further see the absurd lengths to which advocates of "the default explanation" now go in elucidating differing racial outcomes, the following conversation between Garrett Morris and Julian Bond may prove entertaining, particularly if you are familiar with the relative skin tone of the two participants:
Garrett Morris: Good evening, and welcome to "Black Perspective". I'm your host, Garrett Morris. Tonight our guest is Mr. Julian Bond, and we'll be talking about the myths surrounding black I.Q. Specifically, the myth that whites are inherently more intelligent than blacks.
Julian Bond: Good evening, Garrett.
Garrett Morris: Now, Julian, perhaps you could explain something to me. In all these studies comparing black I.Q. to white I.Q., what kind of test is used to measure I.Q.'s in the first place?
Julian Bond: Well, this is the major problem with these studies. The measurements of I.Q. which form the basis of comparison come from tests composed by whites for whites. The tests are culturally biased; it's not surprising that whites would score better than blacks.
Garrett Morris: Could you give us an example of what you're talking about?
Julian Bond: Certainly. Here are some questions that have appeared on recent I.Q. tests. Number one: "You have been invited over for cocktails by the officer of your trust fund. Cocktails begin at 4:30, but you must make an appearance at a 6:00 formal dinner at the Yacht Club. What do you do about dress?
A. Wear your blue-striped seersucker suit to cocktails and change into your tuxedo in the bathroom, apologizing to your host for the inconvenience.
B. Wear your tuxedo to cocktails, apologizing to your host for wearing a dinner jacket before 6:00 PM.
C. Walk to the subway at Columbus Circle and take the "A" Train uptown."
Garrett Morris: Uh.. I guess I'd choose the last one.
Julian Bond: I'm sorry, that's incorrect.
Garrett Morris: Damn.
Julian Bond: Here's another: "When waxing your skis for a cross-country run, you should..."
Garrett Morris: [ interrupting ] Well, I think I understand the problem with the tests. But the fact is that people have been saying that white people are smarter than black for hundreds of years. We've only had I.Q. tests for 20 or 30 years. How did the idea of white intellectual superiority originate?
Julian Bond: That's an interesting point. My theory is that it's based on the fact that light-skinned blacks are smarter than dark-skinned blacks.
Garrett Morris: [ not sure he heard that right ] Say what?
Julian Bond: I said I think it might have grown out of the observation that light-skinned blacks are smarter than dark-skinned blacks.
Garrett Morris: I don't get it.
Julian Bond: It's got nothing to do with having white blood. It's just that descendants of the lighter-skinned African tribes are more intelligent than the descendants of the darker-skinned tribes. Everybody knows that.
Garrett Morris: This is the first time I've heard of it.
Julian Bond: Seriously? It was proven a long time ago.
Garrett Morris: Well, I still don't quite understand. We're out of time right now, but perhaps you could come back on the show again and explain it further.
Julian Bond: There's very little to explain - it's just like I told you.
Garrett Morris: Well, we are out of time. Good night. [ to Julian ] If you could repeat it just once more..
[ logo up: "Black Perspective ]
[ fade ]
Those interested in this topic might wish to take a look at further information and/or discussions at the following locations:
The specter of difference: what science is uncovering, we will have to come to grips with, by John Derbyshire
And my own previous posts:
The Code of Silence
No Child Left Behind: Two Views
You might also want to take a look at this piece about what now consititutes "freshman orientation" at some American universities, and why you might not want to subject your kids to life in dorm:
"Students who agreed with ResLife’s views on “diversity, homosexual rights (and more subtly, politics)” were hired as RAs, writes Dan Lenker, a former RA, on SayAnything. Then RAs were trained in how to pressure students to accept the program’s “unarguable dogma,” such as the fact that “racist” applies to all whites in the U.S. “regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality.” Over time, “ridiculous and poorly designed” programs became “more belligerent” in pushing students to accept the approved beliefs, Lenker writes. While older students realized they could skip dorm meetings, “gullible” freshman believed RAs who said they had to participate."