Nature vs Nurture? So What?

Nature vs Nurture? So What? November 12, 2018

I ignited a pretty good firestorm here with my article on “The Bell Curve,” a book that tries to prove that differences in the IQ of racial groups (Asians, Whites, Blacks) are primarily due to genetic difference in the races.

The amount that has been written on this issue is probably a major cause of global warming, since it is responsible for denuding hundreds of square miles of forest to produce the paper to print all those arguments. On one side are the folks who claim that the education and income…the socioeconomic status (SES) of the parents of a child is the primary driver of his/her scores on IQ tests. On the other side are the heritability folks, who claim that our genes are the primary determining factor of our native intelligence, and those genes vary between the races, with Asians slightly higher than Whites who lead Blacks by a larger margin.

I will not reproduce all those arguments here. I want to look at it from a different perspective: First, I think it is generally recognized that native intelligence is heritable. A child’s intelligence is definitely influenced by the intelligence of his/her parents. Furthermore, there are statistical differences between the racial groups’ scores on IQ tests. It is also recognized by almost everybody that those scores are also influenced by the parents’ (SES). The debate, I think, is mostly over how much each of those…nature (genetics) or nurture (SES) plays in determine the final number. The issue boils down to the distinction between within-group-heritability (WGH) and between-group-heritability (BGH), as defined by Neven Sesardic in his book, “Making Sense of Heritability.”

That is all I want to say about the debate. The question I want to ask is the one in the title…so what? What should society do with these numbers? What government policies should take them into account?

One more point needs to be made: Intelligence of individuals can vary by a considerable amount. So, it follows that there are a lot of whites who are smarter than a lot of Asians, even though the Asian average measured IQ is higher, and there are a lot of Blacks who are smarter than both Whites and Asians, even though their average measured IQ is lower.

I think everyone will agree (except maybe some real nutcase Nazis and White Supremacists) that the racial groups should not be treated differently AS A GROUP with regard to access to higher education, for example. Furthermore, it is obvious that some effort should be made to help those in the lower SES groups of all races to raise their educational levels and income. But I wonder why this whole debate has become so heated. Why is it important?

It’s easy to play the race card here, and say that the folks who went to all the time and effort to collect the data and show that the three racial groups perform differently are racists, and that their primary goal Is to denigrate black people. There are some of those creatures among us, and to Hell with them, but there are others who insist that this is a legitimate scientific question that needs to be pursued. All scientific knowledge needs to be pursued, I suppose, but some of it is more useful, and some can be potentially harmful. Many people are violently opposed to research on human cloning. So I ask: What practical use is there for this information? What should we, as a society, do with it?

The goal of any society should be to help every individual attain a rich, interesting, and productive life, so that they can support themselves and their families, and pay their fair share of taxes to fund the various levels of government that provide a myriad of services to them.

What does a statistical difference in measured IQ have to do with that?

Here’s what I think is going on. Conservatives don’t like the cost of all those programs that help the poor. They require higher taxes and/or increased government deficits, and the burden falls mainly on people in higher income tax brackets. Anything suggesting that poor people are poor because they are dumb undermines those programs.

Charles Murray, one of the authors of “The Bell Curve,” made the following comments In an interview by Sam Harris:

…changing environments in ways to produce measurable (IQ) results is really, really hard and we actually do not know how to do it, no matter how much money we spend.

And then he added this, without giving any evidence to support it:

Does that mean if only you can artificially jack up the environment you can make much difference in a child’s IQ? And the answer is: Not long term.

There are many experts in the field who would argue with those statements. I won’t start that argument yet again, but Murray’s assertions show the thinking of those who oppose programs to address the problem.


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