Intelligence, Race, and Forbidden Knowledge

By coincidence I happen to be in the midst of watching the three part PBS documentary of Jered Diamond’s Guns, Germs, & Steel from a couple of years ago. The documentary poses one idea on why different societies have done better while James Watson happened to create controversy this week by offering a different answer (which he has now retracted). In the first episode of his documentary, Diamond reported his view that the people he met on the island of Papua New Guinea were as intelligent as people he’s met anywhere in the world and tried to answer the question of why Europeans have become more affluent and technologically advanced. Diamond’s conclusion was that it came down to the luck of the draw, depending upon geography and what resources were present. In contrast Watson initially claimed that African and Caribbean workers are less intelligent.

The racist overtones of this have been widely discussed. Looking at this from a scientific viewpoint I immediately rejected his claim as we do not have a way to even measure this reliably. Even if intelligence tests were to show a higher average score for more affluent white Europeans or Americans it could not be assumed to be measuring anything inherent about the race as opposed to environment. Intelligence tests are also a limited measure of a person’s abilities and other factors need to be considered.

Another problem with Watson’s initial claim is that, even if his assumption was true, averages regarding a race are irrelevant with regards to the individual. Even if there was an average lower intelligence, and even if this test of intelligence really meant anything, this would not mean that all Africans and Caribbeans are less intelligent than all whites or that their societies could not be successful.

Reviewing the comments to this article via Memeorandum did raise yet another question at Preemetive Karma should it ever be possible to compare intelligence between races in a meaningful manner:

What if scientists actually did find intelligence differences in the races? Should the science be suppressed in the interest of building an egalitarian society? Isn’t that sort of like imprisoning Galileo for challenging the flat-earth believers? Or is it a way to make the world safer for everyone? Here’s my answer: human nature being what it is, the stakes involved are too great to allow something like that to be known. It can only lead to oppression and misery. We’re all better off if we focus on equality of opportunity and work to stamp out corruption in the world. In such an environment, people all around the world do a pretty good job of finding happiness and creating a good life for themselves and their children.

If I happened to develop a real measure which could compare intelligence I do not think I would want to open this Pandora’s box personally and begin a study to compare races. However, should someone actually do this I could not justify any attempts to suppress the knowledge. Suppression of knowledge is just too dangerous, and once this course of action is justified it is impossible to guarantee that it will always be done for the good motivations seen here. Instead of trying to suppress such knowledge it would be preferable to attempt to reduce the harm that misuse of such knowledge could result in. If one race was less intelligent this would justify neither discrimination towards the race as a whole or making assumptions about the comparative intelligence of any particular individuals regardless of race.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. 1
    absent observer says:

    Watson should focus on stealing research from women and presenting it as his own.

  2. 2
    Galileo Smith says:

    Do I write in a blog that no one every reads or do I write in a blog that is so much traffic that my comments get swept away in fifteen minutes? Ahh hell, here it goes…
    I think race/intelligence is a fascinating subject. There’s all kinds of things going on within it; history, genetics, political correctness, and a few more ingredients thrown in for good measure. Personally I think it is highly likely that there is a difference in intelligence (we’ll call it “academic ability”) when comparing races. I’m not sure that this will or even could be completely accepted no matter what evidence is unveiled. It’s just too politically incorrect. There’s just too much history behind the mess. The Bell Curve is often attacked and criticized because the authors did not follow proper scientific protocol, or the authors were not “experts” in some particular field. True or not, I see such criticisms are just splitting hairs. Unless research samples and figures are made-up from fiction, I look at such things as evidence, perhaps not conclusive, but evidence. The stuff is just not that complicated. Most of the data I can figure out on my own. In fact, I don’t think the question is so much; “Is there really any significant evidence?”, but; “Is the evidence conclusive?” It’s not far from it, in my opinion.

    Beyond the initial controversy, a few other good questions need to be asked. Perhaps the best one is; Do we really want to delve into the subject to its conclusion? There’s a lot of people, mostly blacks, but some whites, who find their self-identity in their race. For those blacks it could mean a loss of self-esteem. For those whites it could mean a renewed air of racial superiority. As a race-conscious people, we would have to quickly figure out a new way to view both ourselves and others. On the other hand, it just could be that society would be better off not knowing everything there is to know about itself.

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    “Do I write in a blog that no one every reads or do I write in a blog that is so much traffic that my comments get swept away in fifteen minutes?”

    Somewhere in between. Most of the readers here are from RSS readers (currently over 5000 subscribers) and only a fraction click through. As this is an old post there will not be readers from there. As the newest comments are on the front page sometimes an old post launches a new discussion but the odds are limited. Old posts also do get read when they come up on a Google search, and I often find old posts receiving links from other blogs and discussion forums. Being posted on a Sunday morning also greatly reduces the chances of it being read.

    Getting more on topic, I already touched on the issues of having a conclusive answer and whether this is a good idea. Personally this is not a topic I would want to have such a conclusive answer on. However, in responding to the other blog, I also cannot agree with the idea of suppressing knowledge.

Leave a comment