Genes May Determine Racial Attributes
Michael Polignano, Columnist
October 23, 2000
Note: The following column appeared in the October 6 edition of The Emory Wheel, the student newspaper of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. In it, Mr. Michael Polignano, a student at the university, cites the New Century Foundation’s “Color of Crime” report, among other sources, in his defense of the position that the theories of Professor Arthur Jensen deserve a fair hearing in academia, instead of the knee-jerk dismissal with which they have typically been received by academic ideologues.
For these “offensive” remarks, Mr. Polignano was pilloried in subsequent editions of the paper and in political demonstrations on his campus. Indeed, among the first in the academic piling-on was Emory President William M. Chace, whose letter prompted AR editor Jared Taylor to write to the newspaper in defense of Mr. Polignano. Citing a policy of printing letters only from within the Emory community, the Wheel declined to print Mr. Taylor’s letter, so we are pleased to present it below.
Interestingly, the controversy continues, and Mr. Polignano appears to be succeeding in impelling Emory to examine its premises, whether it wants to or not. To which we say, well done.
Before I get started, I want to say that honesty and open discussion are mandatory for making any sort of headway in racial reconciliation. What I’m about to say will almost certainly generate controversy and will undoubtedly offend some people, but it needs to be said in order for any sort of real progress to be made.
Unfortunately, it’s sometimes necessary to reopen old wounds so that healing can occur properly. If I believed that one should sacrifice things like truth and honesty for the sake of being popular and “politically correct,” I’d be studying for a career in politics instead of in science.
That said, I think that the road to racial understanding should begin with a look at some common stereotypes that exist regarding racial differences and see what, if any, truth exists behind them. By far, the deepest fissure that exists in the U.S. is between whites and blacks. Some common stereotypes about blacks by whites are that blacks are, in general, more prone to crime, more violent, and less intelligent than whites. Obviously, if these stereotypes aren’t true, then all of us have a moral obligation to speak out whenever we hear these stereotypes voiced, and should work hard to eliminate them entirely. For example, if blacks and whites commit crime at equal rates, then we should outlaw racial profiling not just because it’s unfair, but also because it wouldn’t help reduce crime.
Unfortunately, as much as some of us would want to believe otherwise, each and every one of the above stereotypes has some truth to it. A well-researched study released just last year has found that blacks are 50 times more likely to commit a violent crime against a white than whites are to commit a violent crime against blacks. You can review the data yourself at www.amren.com/colrcrim.html.
As far as intelligence is concerned, Dr. Arthur Jensen, Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology at the University of California-Berkeley, has devoted much of his 40 year tenure at Berkeley to the study of general intelligence, or g. His work has made him one of the most frequently cited figures in contemporary psychology. Jensen believes that g is up to 80 percent heritable in adults, meaning that variations in intelligence between adults are due 80 percent to genes and 20 percent to environment, within human populations, i.e.: within “races.”
In his book The g Factor, Jensen also deals with the differences in g that exist between human racial populations. General intelligence correlates highly with creativity, socioeconomic status, educational attainment and a slew of other variables. As far as whites and blacks are concerned, he notes that the mean black IQ is 15 points lower than the mean white IQ, even after taking extensive measures to eliminate test bias. In the book, he proposes a theory, which he calls “the default hypothesis,” which holds that “the proximal causes of both individual differences and population differences in heritable psychological traits are essentially the same, and are continuous variables.”
A questionnaire survey presented elsewhere in the book shows that Jensen is not alone in his beliefs. Of 661 experts in the fields of differential psychology, psychometrics, and behavioral genetics, 45 percent were of the opinion that the black — white difference in IQ “is a product of both genetic and environmental variation,” and only 15 percent felt that the difference is due to environment alone. So, it is indeed possible that truth exists behind the “racist” claim that blacks are inherently less intelligent. How do we deal with this possibility?
Not through censorship.
Dr. Jensen’s work is a prime example of how political correctness can endanger academic freedom. In the past, left-wing radicals physically assaulted him during one of his talks at the University of Minnesota, and the university did nothing to punish the assailants. I wonder what would happen if he came to Emory? Would he be arrested by the Emory Police Department for committing a so-called “act of intolerance” if he were to give a talk in which he mentioned that class and race differences in intelligence were primarily the result of genetic differences?
What we need here is open discussion. Like all scientific work, Dr. Jensen’s theories are subject to refutation through empirical evidence. So far, I’ve read plenty of attacks on Jensen’s motives, but I have yet to find any scientific articles that show any major flaws in his data or his conclusions. So, I guess I’d have to agree with him and say that genes (and not racism, past inequalities, or anything else) are primarily responsible for blacks’ lower status on the socioeconomic ladder in the U.S.
Should I, or anyone else, feel somehow guilty for even daring to consider the possibility that races differ by more than just skin color? Should scientists not perform research that might threaten commonly held beliefs about race? Are the social pressures forbidding the open discussion of “racist” ideas the same type of social pressures Galileo faced for daring to question the belief that the earth is the center of the solar system, or Darwin for daring to question the Bible’s version of creation? Why was I always told in school and through the media growing up that all races are inherently equal in intelligence, when in actuality the debate still rages on within scientific circles?
I’m not saying Jensen’s explanation is necessarily right, just that alternative explanations are possibly wrong, and that we’ll never know for sure until his theories can be openly discussed and debated and more research is done. It’s people like those who attacked Dr. Jensen who are the true close-minded ones. They can’t comprehend that if he is right, then it does us no good to pretend that compensatory programs like Affirmative Action and Head Start will eventually put blacks on an equal footing with whites. On the other hand, if he’s wrong, then we have a responsibility to help blacks achieve their potential, and rid the world of racism. But we need open discussion before any of this can happen.
Michael Polignano is a College junior from Adamstown, Maryland.
Michael Polignano is Right
I am the author of the report on crime rates Michael Polignano referred to in his now-notorious article in the October 6 issue. I am also very familiar with the race/IQ controversy and can confirm Mr. Polignano’s view that Arthur Jensen’s findings have not been disproven. His two major works in this field, Bias in Mental Testing and The g Factor, have so baffled his critics that he can no longer find qualified psychometricians willing to debate him. Indeed, his view that genetic differences contribute substantially to racial differences in average intelligence have been publicly endorsed by many scientists, including Linda Gottfredson (University of Delaware) Richard Herrnstein (late, of Harvard), Sandra Scarr (University of Virginia), Robert Gordon (Johns Hopkins), Philippe Rushton (University of Western Ontario) Michael Levin (City University), R. Travis Osborne (University of Georgia).
Even aside from the overwhelming evidence from studies of psychometrics, physiology, and trans-racial adoption, there is simply no reason to think every human group is endowed with the same mental abilities. A recurring complex of high crime rates, high illegitimacy rates, and low economic achievement is found, without exception, in all communities of sub-Saharan African origin. This is true both for African nations that were never or only briefly colonized, like Liberia and Ethiopia, and for those like Nigeria and Ivory Coast with more lengthy histories of colonization. It is no more true for a multi — racial society like the United States that practiced slavery and segregation than it is for multi-racial societies like Canada and Britain that have only recently had large populations of blacks.
The record of African achievement before contact with either Europeans or Arabs is meager. No sub-Saharan population devised a written language or a calendar, invented the wheel, or built a mechanical device or multi-story building. Even after the introduction of Western technology all-black societies, whether in Africa or the Caribbean, remain at a low level of development consistent with a low level of average intelligence.
It is certainly true that there are very intelligent blacks who outperform the vast majority of whites. Likewise, there are very tall women who tower over most men, but this does not change the fact that the average woman is shorter than the average man.
The October 13 issue of The Wheel reports on a campus meeting held in response to Mr. Polignano’s article, in which Prof. George Armelagos is quoted as saying “a century of bad science and hatred is enough.” Sophomore Chris Richardson is quoted as saying the gathering was a response to “hate.” Hate has nothing to do with the scientific conclusions of Arthur Jensen and his colleagues, and irresponsible language of this kind has a chilling effect on anyone whose only interest is to examine the evidence objectively. Misdirected emotion, no matter how well intended, serves neither science nor dialogue.
Human genome research will eventually identify the genes that contribute to intelligence. Further research will show that these genes are not distributed equally among all population groups. It is far better to accept the truth, no matter how unpleasant, than to persist in error.
President New Century Foundation