Does Intelligence Have a Color?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker, and Eric Turkheimer, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, dig deeper into the idea that there is a correlation between race and IQ.


Malcolm Gladwell and Eric Turkheimer

Comments [23]

Mary J Ford

This was a worthwhile conversation for those of us who believe in the value of human beings. I believe that people who concern themselves solely with the IQ "scores", have other than noble agendas. Generally, it is to prove that a prejudice is justified.

Apr. 15 2013 10:30 PM
ellen from ny

re post 20--i can only wonder what motivates him to bother making unflattering comparisons between 2 groups--blacks and jews. Why? What urge for superiority does it satisfy? Is it reassurance for insecurity, or venting resentment? To identify one group with basketball and the other with wealth is ridiculous exaggerating and overgeneralizing. It's like a cartoon so It proves nothing. These two groups have had a vastly different history and experience of hundreds of years in usa. Though jews had discrimination here, it was nothing like the repugnant humiliation all blacks suffered. Plus jews came here out of highly developed societies, and they were never owned as slaves in the land of the free. So come off it.

Dec. 13 2007 05:06 AM
Frank De Canio from Union City, NJ

Looking for genetic determinants of learning deficiencies against a backdrop of poverty, neglect, poor upbringing, trying circumstances of life - whether they stem from nurture or society - is like looking for genetic causes of lung cancer in someone who was a heavy smoker for 35 years.

There are thousands of variables that offer themselves as causes of learning deficiences. The usual suspects are: bad diet, poor self-esteem, malnutrition, lack of role models, dangerous neighborhoods, and the thousands of contingencies that afflict many of those who don't have the good fortune to live in optimal environments.


Dec. 11 2007 04:24 PM
jim from peekskillny

A few points:
1. IQ points rising every generation by 30 points in Netherlands?? Does that mean that their parents started out with 0 and that in a hundred years the average will be shifted to 300 or even 900 in place of 100, as now?
2. As usual when dealing with a pc topic, you had no contrarian point of view.
3. All racial differences can be explained by the environment??
Does that explain why professional sports are dominated by a race, which, although only 10-12 % of the populace, is wildly overrepresented?? Have you seen and NBA game lately?
And does environment explain why tests show that people of Jewish ancestry have the highest per family income in the USA???
I think utopians are more religiously bound to their beliefs than so-called "evangelicals"

Dec. 11 2007 02:57 PM

I don't understand what a conclusive answer would accomplish in the end.

Let's say if whites were found to be more intelligent than blacks and other non-whites, for that matter, would this superiority justify apartheid, colonization, discrimination, slavery, racism in general? Would whites see a minority group's lack of intelligence as a way of rationalizing the group's position in the social hierarchy? Thus, blaming the victim for not having the intelligence to move above and beyond their station in life?

Is it about bragging rights? Power?

Do we really need to make life more complicated?

Dec. 11 2007 11:58 AM
janet f from secaucus, new jersey

Why confine the discussion to Mormon discrimination against AFrican Americans? What about their attitude toward women? Women cannot participate at all in the leadership of the church, much less the ministry. And an African American woman would stand no chance at all.

Janet F

Dec. 11 2007 11:31 AM
O. from Brooklyn/Manhattan

Edwin, comment 13
I agree wholeheartedly! This is such dangerous thinking but one cannot ignore the effects of the history of these people has had on their current culture. Chris Rock does a pithy bit about how it would have certainly been to the advantage of slave owners to 'breed out' those thinking slaves because they never would have been able to control them otherwise. And as a matter of survival, it would certainly behoove a slave to at least act dumb or make no effort to better themselves. What does this manner of thinking do to generations down the line. If someone were to discover that African Americans have a lower IQ, it's because it was beaten out of them by white slave owners!

This is dangerous thinking and can easily be used as a basis for evil discrimination. And I am a white person saying this.

Dec. 11 2007 11:31 AM
MWS from Harlem

This sort of overly self-conscious liberal discussion has the potential to be just as damaging to the progress of science as fundamentalist Christian dialogue from the right. Your guests were disappointing, copping out with disclaimers and political correctness that masqueraded as scientific rigor.

There were some vague (and irrelevant) references to earlier US generations and current South Africans, but no actual comparison between contemporaneous whites and blacks in America.

There is no real evidence on the relationship between race and IQ (in either direction)--for this reason alone, it remains a subject worthy of further investigation.

In an era that acknowledges differentials in disease prevalence and is moving toward increasingly personalized medicine, it is not so far-fetched to suggest that we might learn differently and should be educated in settings that are tailored to our strengths. If tests like the so-called "IQ" can reveal these differences--and if we can all stop falling over our own enlightenment long enough to consider this question objectively--then they have the potential to be downright valuable.

Isn't it possible that the results will leave us with a better understanding of racial/ethnic/cultural difference and thereby serve to actually discourage bigotry?

Dec. 11 2007 11:30 AM

Funny, I am assuming there were two white men discussing the issue of intelligence and the link to race. No mentioned who creates the intelligence test. There have been many reports about how bias the tests themselves are in the first place. Sadly, a very onesided view of the issue.

Dec. 11 2007 11:06 AM

There is a bit of a moot point about this since:

-what IQ is cannot be 100% agreed upon

- and recent studies of genetics reveal that our concepts of "race" are not correct (to the point that one has to wonder what "race" really is)

not to mention the other points made by others above

so there is a fundamental problem with any study that deals with IQ and "race" on the face of it

Dec. 11 2007 11:05 AM
Edwin from Brooklyn, New York

What about the effects of slavery, apartheid, racism and poverty on African/African-Americans IQ? Is an IQ test created to measure knowledge of European culture or ones actual mental capacity?

Dec. 11 2007 11:03 AM

regarding comment #6

Umm...nooooooo, science is NOT simply reducing data to simple numbers. That's 100% wrong. It's about the proper interpretation of data. Accounting is about simple number crunching, not science.

Dec. 11 2007 11:02 AM
eric fluger from jersey city

taking tests is a skill and taking different kinds of tests (paper and pencil, hands on, etc) are different variations of this skill. how much do the results of intelligence tests reflect intelligence and how much do they reflect test-taking aptitude?

Dec. 11 2007 10:59 AM
Eddie Gonzalez from Prospect Heights

Three quick points:

1. Race is a social construct that has evolved throughout the years. In the 19th century many European immigrants were not considered white. They were placed in a mid-point btw whites & blacks. Many lamarckian (sp?) theories of evolutions were used to support why blacks were different and why southern Europeans were a different racial composition.

2. Quantitative analysis are flawed b/c they hide volumes. IQ, SAT, and other "indicators" of future achievement are a self-fulling prophecy. There are many Qualitative studies that show HS students with high grade point average, with lower SAT perform very well in college...

3. Our concept of knowledge is biased :-/

Dec. 11 2007 10:58 AM
Niki from brooklyn

There hasn't been much discussion about the actual content of the IQ test. I rememebr taking hte test in 5th grade, and my classmates and I all did relaly well, because we wer ein a gifted program and inthat program we did lots of little games and things which were similar to the questions on the IQ test.

I lived in West Africa in my 20's ina small village, and I remember thinking that the skills I leanred in elementary school would be compeltely lost here. the skills one needs to survive in a village in teh third world are completely different.

iw as regualrly impressed at the clever solutions people came up with in teh village - engineering problems, medical and social problems...people came up with the skills they needed.

Dec. 11 2007 10:58 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Another thing to keep in mind is that cognitive faculties don't come in one big package. I mean, just recently a study has determined that chimps have better short-term memory, but we clearly have better reasoning abilities. Thus intelligence is a little difficult to pin down.

However, I will say that I think saying that "intelligence" as a set of different cognitive abilities is NOT something that is strictly a matter of development. How could genes not play a role? They determine the size and structure of our brains. They must therefore play a critical role in determining intelligence. Is it possible that environmental factors determine whether or not the brain reaches its total cognitive capacity? Of course.

Dec. 11 2007 10:58 AM
David from Princeton, NJ

I'm very supicious of any genetically baised arguement that happens to fall so neatly along sociial and political lines of division as race. For me to really buy that I would imagine you would have to explain how the lack of intelligence of certain groups lead to the social and political divisions.

Dec. 11 2007 10:55 AM
John from bklyn

One of your guests is uncomfortable with brain weight, and the other doesn't like studies that reduce "data to simple numbers." Ahem, uh, isn't that called science?

Dec. 11 2007 10:55 AM
Joseph Arsenault from Harlem

My question with iq tests refers to language! Is it possible that the language the test is given influences the test taker? If immigrants take an english iq test, they will naturally score lower than if it were given in spanish? How can we accurately measure that discrepancy?

Dec. 11 2007 10:52 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Well, the evidence seems to come down strongly against any kind of quantifiable (and in science that's the only kind that matters) proof of intelligence differences between races. But what if such evidence existed? What would we do if there were a race (let's say neandertals had continued into the modern era) of people that were quantifiably less intelligent?

Our morality tells us that we would have to dismiss this evidence. But isn't this just a new dogmatism then? Should we abandon reality for something that we would prefer to be true?

I will add that I think that the IQ tests are highly questionable as any real measure of intelligence... at least from society to society. It MAY gives us a satisfactory base within a society where the people who designed the test have the same social norms as those who are taking them, but giving these same tests to people from different cultures is going to lead to inherently skewed results.

Dec. 11 2007 10:52 AM
fatigue from new york city

Haven't IQ tests been proven to be culturally based therefore culturally biased? If a group of people who have historically been marginalized and are still undeniably oppressed, ie. statistically they live in worse conditions, there are less educational opportunities etc. These tests have been designed by the people who do well on them. An IQ test is far from objective. Certainly many people now considered geniuses would not have done well on IQ tests. This is a fictiopn that is utilized to manipulate people and impose false heirarchies and identities on others. Intelligence cannot be measured by a number and it cannot be constrained in such a narrow margin of understanding.

Dec. 11 2007 10:51 AM

I totally agree with your guest, I think that it'd be very hard to come to the conclusion biologically that they have a genetic disposition towards lower intelligence. Also, phrenology was disproved long ago and that is no evidence for genetic disposition. Lastly, statistics have so many hidden variables with race that I don't believe we can honestly believe them. African americans and blacks around the world have had a lot of social challenges throughout their lives and those kinds of hidden variables are very hard to measure.

Dec. 11 2007 10:50 AM
CH from NYC

Children in developing, or under-developed, societies are exposed to physical variables that seem to be much more important to brain potential. Lead and other chemicals (some introduced by human industry), protein-poor or vitamin deficient diet, lack of clean water, insecure living environments, and so on, have all been shown to have a physical impact on the development of the human brain. Perhaps we are looking for a DNA-based excuse for an issue that would take real effort to address otherwise. We would rather blame nature than take responsibility for nurture.

Dec. 11 2007 10:50 AM

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