Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Why It's Painful to Talk to Liberals About Race: Balloon Juice/IQ Edition

Ugh.

First: you can't have a serious conversation about anything if you are using the phrase 'social construction.' That is not a serious concept for use in serious conversations. If you find yourself having the urge to think or speak of things being "socially constructed," let me recommend Hacking's The Social Construction of What?
(Which is, IMO, a bit too kind to the locution...)

It's really unfortunate that this ridiculous term has taken root. It is so unclear that it barely means anything, it is ambiguous in pretty much exactly the way that it needs to not be ambiguous, and, it puts almost any conversation it appears in into a tailspin.

Do you mean to say that something is just a fiction? Then say that. Do you mean that something is a social institution ungrounded in anything natural? Then say that. Do you mean that the thing in question is something we built? Then say that. Do you mean that the relevant category is vague? Then bloody say that. But, for God's sake, don't use the ridiculous term "social construct" or it's cognates, I beseech thee...

Second: The left (including, sadly, liberals in this case) are often desperate to deny the reality of race. This is a favorite tactic of the left (including liberals): if you don't like something--e.g. if you find it oppressive--claim that it isn't real. (Better yet, claim that it's a "social construct"...then you've said something unclear enough that you may or may not be saying that it's unreal...but you can move your position around depending on what's convenient...) Race, however, does not seem to be a fiction. It may not be a terribly clear or important category, it may actually be a category we could easily do without, it's clearly vague as hell...but it doesn't seem to be a fiction. Biologists, however, tend to say that it's not an important biological category. So it's not a fiction, but it doesn't seem to be that important. But I'm inclined to want the category to go away, too, so I I might very well be cheating on that one...

Third: A category doesn't have to be fictive (nor "socially constructed") in order to be morally irrelevant. Liberals (broadly construed) are committed to the position that categories like race and sex are not morally significant. Only a few pretty far on the intellectual left claim that sex is unreal (or "socially constructed"), but that doesn't mean that males and females are morally unequal. The attempt to make every morally/politically troublesome category fictional betrays a loss of faith in the proposition that people can be different in prominent ways, yet morally equal.

Fourth: The persistent racial IQ gap is disappointing, but it does not seem to be made up. Nobody likes this. (Well, some people do, but they are assholes.) But this does not mean that you get to lash out at people who are willing to try to discuss it dispassionately. I want it to go away, and I think that it's still reasonable to think that it might. But if it doesn't, it doesn't mean that much. Say Asians turn out to be more intelligent than everybody else. Ok. Fine. So what? Higher IQ does not mean greater moral worth. We already know that people are unequal with respect to all sorts of abilities. Moral and political equality are not grounded in equality with respect to abilities and talents.

Finally, and more specifically: if you are going to accuse somebody of being a racist, as Tim F. seems to do here, you'd better not be making a bunch of stupid mistakes. Sullivan is no racist (nor "racialist"--a handy term if you want to accuse someone of racism without doing so in a completely honest fashion...). He may be wrong, but he's on firmer ground than Mr. F.

Though, really finally: Sullivan's move here is also confused, I think. Races are kinds like: Asian, black, white and so on. It's all terribly unclear. Jewish? Is that a race? Who knows. But if whatever phenomena we're interested in do not track those categories, we can't hypothesize new categories that they do track and just call those 'race'. That really would be evidence that race is a fiction--not that we need a new, more scientifically-respectable conception of race.

9 Comments:

Blogger Dark Avenger said...

AFAIK, Sullivan still hasn't repudiated his endorsement of the pseudo-scientific book, "The Bell Curve", so he has nothing to say to anyone intelligent on the theory of 'race' and IQ.

As for intelligence and heredity, intelligence is a cultural construct in some part. There has been some findings of genes linked to brain size, but no findings that such differences are racial.

You need to talk to one of your colleagues in the Biology department about such things, Winston. If you take Sullivan and his pseudo-scientific approach seriously, then you really don't have much to contribute to the dialog of 'race' vs. intelligence.




10:14 AM  
Blogger Dark Avenger said...

This covers what is known about intelligence and heredity, scientifically.

At present, the most one can say is that some differences in the frequencies of
particular alleles at particular loci have been found between high and average IQ
groups, and that some of these differences have been replicated in new samples. It will
be important to see if independent groups of researchers, studying quite different
populations (all the participants in these studies were white, non-Hispanic Americans,
most of them living in the Midwest), can replicate these differences. It is, moreover,
important to note that the effects observed, even if statistically significant, are very
small. The critical allele 5 was found in less than half of the high-IQ children in the
initial study, and in nearly one quarter of the average IQ group. As the authors properly
acknowledge: ‘IGF2R is not the gene for g but may be one of many genes responsible
for the high IQ heritability of g.’

10:22 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

DA,

First: C'mon. Nothing is really a "cultural construct," because the term doesn't make any sense. Do you mean that intelligence is a fiction? Like Bigfoot? That there is no real category *intelligence*? That's at odds with the consensus among intelligence researchers, who find that intelligence seems to be real thing that's pretty much what we ordinarily think it is, and which is correlated with other real things such as various types of success...

Second, the fact that intelligence has not yet been correlated with specific genes is not a surprise to me, but it isn't entirely to the point, is it? The question is: is IQ correlated with race? Psychology's current best answer to that is: yes. That doesn't mean that we know how to correlated IQ with specific genes. Hell, race is a vague category; for all I know, race isn't closely related to specific genes.

The real error here, IMO, is to think that this question is morally important. In fact, it doesn't matter. If the average person of another race is more intelligent than the average person of my race, what does that mean about me? Nothing. What should it mean to me? Nothing. IMO it's very important to get this point across to people.

It is a very serious mistake to believe that our moral and political equality rests on equality of abilities. And it pains me to see liberals go into a panic trying to frantically spin away current scientific consensus.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Dark Avenger said...

C'mon. Nothing is really a "cultural construct," because the term doesn't make any sense.

Intelligence is always rooted in some sort of human culture.

What is a cultural construct is the idea of some sort of human intelligence that can be objectively measured like g, when all the evidence goes the other way, that there are a number of factors that contribute to a high level of intelligence. We just can't sort them all out yet.

The question is: is IQ correlated with race? Psychology's current best answer to that is: yes. That doesn't mean that we know how to correlated IQ with specific genes. Hell, race is a vague category; for all I know, race isn't closely related to specific genes.

No reputable biologist talks of human races, there are populations and subpopulations that demonstrate differences in their genetics.

My biology professor put it this way in his lecture on the subject:

1: There is more variance within 'races' in IQ than the differences between them.

2: You have to have the same environment in order to compare different groups. If you have three or four strains of corn and you wish to see which one grows best, you have to grow them with the same soil, water, sunlight, etc. in order to draw any sort of useful conclusions.

Nothing. What should it mean to me? Nothing. IMO it's very important to get this point across to people.

That's nice, but in the real world people put a lot of emotion into their own origins, and I would rather that they understand that the effect of heredity on intelligence is small, and therefore one cannot attibute differences in intelligence between two given groups on the basis of inheritance.

It is a very serious mistake to believe that our moral and political equality rests on equality of abilities.

And it pains me to see liberals go into a panic trying to frantically spin away current scientific consensus.

The current consensus seems to be that we don't know that much about the subject.

Please, talk to someone in the Biology department, and don't rely on Sullivan for science in the future. He probably couldn't define falsifiability if he had Ludwig Wittgenstein sitting at his elbow.

1:30 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

1. Intelligence is always rooted in some sort of human culture.

Great. As I said, there's never any reason to use terms like 'cultural construct,' since you can say whatever you want to say more clearly without the term.

However, here you use another term that isn't clear: "rooted in."

What does it mean to say that "intelligence is rooted in culture"? I can't figure out what you're trying to say.

2. You have to have the same environment in order to compare different groups.

And that's what psychological investigations of intelligence do. Surely you didn't think that psychologists studying this stuff were so clueless as to not control for obviously relevant factors?

3. That's nice, but in the real world people put a lot of emotion into their own origins, and I would rather that they understand that the effect of heredity on intelligence is small, and therefore one cannot attibute differences in intelligence between two given groups on the basis of inheritance.

Actually, the effect of heredity on intelligence is very significant. The data on this is pretty damn clear.

And, again: we do not want our commitment to moral and political equality to hang on the slender thread of precise equality of ability. Because, among other things, it's going to be some kind of miracle if absolutely every group turns out to be identical to every other group in all the interesting ways.

4. Nobody here is relying on Sullivan. I already know about the consensus in cog sci, and I've reported it above. I don't need to talk to anybody in biology on that score--they're not even the relevant folk.


I know you've got a pure heart on this, man. But I just think you're wrong about a lot of stuff here.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Dark Avenger said...

Human intelligence develops in a particular kind of culture and environment,so there isn't one 'g' that transcends those variable in the kind of intelligence that is selected for.

Actually, the effect of heredity on intelligence is very significant. The data on this is pretty damn clear.


It is, moreover,
important to note that the effects observed, even if statistically significant, are very
small. The critical allele 5 was found in less than half of the high-IQ children in the
initial study
, and in nearly one quarter of the average IQ group. As the authors properly
acknowledge: ‘IGF2R is not the gene for g but may be one of many genes responsible
for the high IQ heritability of g
.’


So it seems to be multifactorial.

And, yes, up to a point.We do know a lot now about brain function and the genetics involved therein.

Abstract The existence of individual differences in intelligence is a prominent aspect of human psychology, and it
is well known that they can influence important life outcomes. The origin of individual differences in intelligence
has been largely debated, and one of the biggest question is whether it is due to genetics or environment, commonly referred as the “nature vs nurture” debate. A large series of data collected in the last years have demonstrated that variability in cognitive abilities among different individuals are due to the interaction of genetic
and environmental factors
: genetics account for about 50% of difference among individual, while shared and nonshared
environment account for 25% and 20%, respectively, the latter 5% being represented by errors in the
evaluation of the cognitive abilities. Data on animal models have demonstrated that environment is able to modify genetically determined cognitive abilities, and that enriched environment can improve the performance of obtuse rats, even in presence of genetic abnormalities.However, the role played by genetics and environment does not remain the same during the entire lifetime. In fact, it has been demonstrated that the genetic component of human
intelligence increase with age. This is due the genetically determined mechanism of neuronal repair, whose role becomes crucial with aging, but also by the reduction of the shared environment. The most recent models of gene/environment
interaction in the determination of human intelligence postulate that at each age specific genetic and environmental influences occurs, producing a variability of IQ even within the same individual. Further evidence
for the gene-environment interaction comes from the study of the psychiatric diseases, and in particular by the specific endophenotypes. These are biological markers of diseases such schizophrenia or mood disorders, which are genetically determined and are transmitted in a mendelian manner. These endophenotypes do not directly
induce the disease, but represent the individual susceptibility to the disease. These susceptibility will produce a disease only in presence of environmental factors. Taken together, all these data demonstrate that the “nature vs
nurture” debate is no more useful. Nature and nurture works together in the determination of human intelligence,and among environmental factor a crucial role in human is played by culture.



Intelligence is the paint, culture is the canvas and where the paint goes.

3:59 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Respect, man. You are relentless in the pursuit of the truth. I will consider all this carefully.

7:24 PM  
Anonymous Jim Bales said...

WS,

There is the Flynn Effect, the increase in IQ scores in the US over time.
"[U]sing the IQ values of today the average IQ of the U.S. in 1932, according to the first Stanford–Binet Intelligence Scales standardization sample, was 80".

So, either Americans got a lot smart in the last 80 years, or confounding factors shifted IQ scores by at least 20 points.

If the former is true (i.e., we are 20 points smarter now than in the '30s), then non-genetic factors can account for differences of 20 IQ points (and possibly more), for we have not changed genetically in eight decades (2-3 generations).

If the latter is true, then factors unrelated to intelligence can account for differences of 20 IQ points (if not more).

The racial differences observed between blacks and whites in the US appear to be around 12-18.

So, the racial disparities that are observed in IQ test results are clearly less than IQ tests can measure in any absolute sense.

In other words IQ tests are too dull of a tool to measure genetic differences between races.

Best
Jim

10:06 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Agreed on all points, Jim.

I do not think that it is irrational to hope that racial differences in IQs will go away. Rather, my point is that we (basically, liberals, broadly construed) (a) need not insist that it will happen, and (b) should not pretend that current cognitive science indicates that that it *will* happen.

If I were betting right now, I would not bet on the racial and sex differences (e.g.: flatter intelligence curve for men than women) going away. I might not bet against it, but I wouldn't bet on it, either.

But the bigger point here is:
The survival and flourishing and correctness of liberalism does not depend on equality of abilities. A higher IQ does not make you a better person, and does not give you more rights.

If liberals keep insisting that cognitive science is wrong unless it shows perfect equality of IQ, then they're basically Lysenkoists. Furthermore, they are strongly suggesting that liberalism only works if there is equality of ability.

Those are bad, bad things.

I do think that the world would be a happier place if there were no identifiable racial/ethnic IQ differences, and, again, I certainly don't think we can rule that out.

But we don't need it to be so.

10:49 AM  

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