Race and IQ

There's been quite an interesting debate raging on-line on race and IQ, that largely began with James Watson's (of DNA fame) remarks not long ago.  William Saletan's series of articles in Slate suggesting that there is a real race-IQ link really got the ball rolling and has led to a number of thoughtful articles and blog postings.  Malcolm Gladwell had a really good New Yorker book review on the matter recently, but his recent blog post, really makes the most sense of it to me.  At the crux of the explanation is the insight that the relationship between environment and IQ is definitely not a linear one:

Children moving from poverty to the middle class see their IQ's
jump: IQ at that end of the socio-economic scale is highly sensitive to
environmental improvements. But the kinds of twins studies usually
relied upon by IQ  fundamentalists and that yield such high genetic
effects, are much more likely to involve comparisons among middle and
upper middle class environments–and that end of the scale,
Turkheimer's data suggests, environment doesn't play a big role. 

In other words, the lawyer who plays Mozart in the crib for his
daughter, in order to raise her IQ, is wasting his time.  But
dramatically increasing the educational resources available to inner
city kids makes a  lot of sense.

This, I think, helps to clarify a lot of what drives so many of us
crazy about Charles Murray and his ilk. We're not disputing the
importance of IQ. And we're not disputing that genes play a huge role
in determining IQ. We're just saying that it's hopelessly naive to
assume that the same rules apply to suburban, middle-class whites as
apply to, say, urban, inner-city black families.

Like most things in life, there's clearly an interaction between environment and genes, but the effect is clearly much stronger in moving from an impoverished environment to a healthy one than from a healthy environment to a super-healthy environment. 


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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