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Race and intelligence

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Utility of research
Potential for bias

Main article: Race and intelligence

Utility of research[]

A common criticism of race and intelligence research is that society would be better off not knowing if races differ in IQ, regardless of whether the cause were genetic or not. For example, Glazer 1994 p. 16, asked of race and intelligence research in The Bell Curve, "what good will come of it?" He adds:

Our society, our polity, our elites, according to Herrnstein and Murray, live with an untruth: that there is no good reason for this [racial] inequality, and therefore society is at fault and we must try harder. I ask myself whether the untruth is not better for American society than the truth.

More recently, Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg asked whether race and intelligence researchers Arthur Jensen and J. Philippe Rushton show "good taste" in their choice of research topics. Further, he asked, "What good is research of the kind done by Rushton and Jensen supposed to achieve?" Sternberg 2005. Others argue the research undermines beneficial social goals dealing with racial matters.

The position that what is good bears on inquiries into what is has been criticized by Harvard University microbiologist Bernard Davis as the "moralistic fallacy", an implied converse of the naturalistic fallacy, see Davis 1978. Some researchers in the field of race and intelligence argue that suppressing race and intelligence research is actually more harmful. For example, Gottfredson 2005b argues against the suggestion of a benevolent untruth:

Lying about race differences in achievement is harmful because it foments mutual recrimination. Because the untruth insists that differences cannot be natural, they must be artificial, manmade, manufactured. Someone must be at fault. Someone must be refusing to do the right thing. It therefore sustains unwarranted, divisive, and ever-escalating mutual accusations of moral culpability, such as Whites are racist and Blacks are lazy.


A political motivation is frequently ascribed to researchers who work on questions of race and intelligence. Many have been described as racists, and some critics hold that it is racist to consider the possibility of cognitive or behavioral differences between ethnic groups. For example, psychologist Jerry Hirsch has claimed that Arthur Jensen has "avowed goals" that were "as heinously barbaric as were Hitler's and the anti-abolitionists" (Hunt 1998). In turn, some researchers have questioned the political motivations of their critics, some of whom have been forced to apologize. More often, though, the ad hominem criticisms are allowed (Gottfredson 2005a). Some critics of this labelling have suggested the term has lost its meaningfulness due to over-use in inapplicable situations.[1]

Some academics argue words like racism are used politically in academic contexts to try to artificially close discussions. Robert M. Rosenzweig, former president of the Association of American Universities, states "they are not in my experience typically used to illuminate the debate [but rather] to close the debate [...] by silencing it with a label [such that] the very effort to overcome the label changes the nature of the debate in which one has to engage" (Rosenzweig 1992). Glayde Whitney argued in his controversial 1995 presidential address to the Behavior Genetics Association that our emotive responses to uncomfortable racial history have left us with a systemic cognitive bias regarding objective discussion of race matters. Drawing from former Forbes editor Peter Brimelow, Whitney states:

"Since the second world war we have been suffering what [Brimelow] calls 'Adolf Hitler's posthumous revenge on America.' The posthumous revenge is that the intellectual elite of the western world, both political and scientific, emerged from the war 'passionately concerned to cleanse itself from all taints of racism or xenophobia.' The aversion to racism has gone so far that [...] the many and important distinctions between objective investigation of group characteristics, and prejudicial pejorative values are lost in a political atmosphere... [The end effect is that] we feel uneasy because we have been trained - like Pavlov's dog - to recoil from any explicit discussion of race."[2]

Stephen Pinker argues that opposition to racism is based on moral, not on scientific assumptions: "the case against bigotry is not a factual claim that humans are biologically indistinguishable. It is a moral stance that condemns judging an individual according to the average traits of certain groups..." (The Blank Slate, p. 145).

Critics note that race and intelligence research has been used by some ethnocentric or putatively racist individuals or groups to support their beliefs.


Linda Gottfredson argues:

The ideal, implicit in many popular critiques of intelligence research, is that all people are born equally able and that social inequality results only from the exercise of unjust privilege. The reality is that Mother Nature is no egalitarian. People are in fact unequal in intellectual potential—and they are born that way. ([3])

Race and intelligence

Research: Test data, Explanations, and Interpretations
Controversies: Utility and Potential for bias
History | Media portrayal | References

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