(Taking a break from exam studying right now. Sigh.)
If you haven’t heard about the story of Stephanie Grace, the Harvard 3L who wrote an e-mail about not wanting to rule out that blacks could genetically be prone to be less intelligent than whites, you can catch up on the whole thing here. But I wanted to respond briefly to Eugene Volokh’s post on the matter, because it perfectly (yet unintentionally) sums up the troubling racial undertones of the above proposition.
Whether there are genetic differences among racial and ethnic groups in intelligence is a question of scientific fact. Either there are, or there aren’t (or, more precisely, either there are such differences under some plausible definitions of the relevant groups and of intelligence, or there aren’t). The question is not the moral question about what we should do about those differences, if they exist. It’s not a question about what we would like the facts to be. The facts are what they are, whether we like them or not.
That’s perfectly fine as a matter of scientific inquiry (now, whether or not we can satisfactorily define “intelligence” is another matter altogether). Although what, exactly, we’d do with that which wouldn’t be inherently racist, I don’t know. But, different question for a different debate.
Given this, it seems to me that the proper approach to this question is precisely the same as the proper approach to other questions of scientific fact. One absolutely should not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent.
One should also obviously be willing to be convinced by evidence that shows that, by controlling for the right variables, we would see that those groups are, in fact, identical to other groups under the same circumstances.
That’s why it seems to me that the author’s statement that “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent” — or a similar statement, as I suggested, about Jews, or whites, or the irreligious [none of these examples, mind you, were about intelligence – ed.] — is perfectly proper, and in fact is the way that people should approach scientific questions of all sort.
Here’s why this is completely and totally fucking wrong, and indicative of deeply problematic racial bias.
If you are going to lead a scientific inquiry about the relative intelligence of racial groups (assuming all definitional problems are solved and that “intelligence” is a single variable), then there are three potential outcomes, generally speaking:
1.) W (whites) are more intelligent than B (blacks).
2.) W and B are equally intelligent.
3.) W are less intelligent than B.
Whenever this tired old debate is brought up, the only propositions that are ever introduced are 1 and 2. Grace never mentioned 3. Volokh never mentioned 3. Nobody I’ve ever had this debate with has ever mentioned 3. It’s because the debate that you’re having isn’t about science’s ability to measure racial intelligence as a genetic factor – it’s about the defense of racial stereotypes as something you can’t disprove and therefore shouldn’t be so damned sensitive about.
It’s simply not a good faith debate, and it can’t be approached as such. This isn’t idle intellectual curiosity leading to potentially uncomfortable truths; this is goading the forces of “PC” into madness through use of a false and racist binary.
And yes, this is as calmly and rationally as this contention needs to be addressed. If you don’t like it, I’m sure we could test people who say ignorant things for a genetic predisposition to thin skin.