Tags: genetically | iq | racial | scientific

Never, Ever Let Science Empower Racism

analysis of dna in a genetics laboratory.

Analysis of DNA sequences in a genetics laboratory. Medical research in genetics and DNA science. (Nadeshda Goettmann/Dreamstime)

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Wednesday, 13 February 2019 09:43 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Racism is a possible side effect of our natural tendency to classify things and people into categories. Few of us are colorblind in the sense of not noticing racial differences.

Nor need we be blind to these differences. The danger comes when we exaggerate their importance. A "hardening of our categories" is just as dangerous to our mental health as hardening of our arteries is to our physical health.

A recent New York Times article, "Geneticists See Work Distorted For Racist Ends," discusses a fear of researchers studying relationships between DNA and IQ.

What if they discover something that could be misinterpreted by white supremacists as proof that their racist beliefs are supported by science?

Their fear is legitimate.

Any scientific discovery can be misinterpreted if one tries hard enough.

The best we can hope for is to make a point so clearly and to frame it so well that attempts to misinterpret it are transparently nonsensical. But this is not easy when there are people who want to believe the misinterpretation.

Geneticists remember the stink after Richard Hernstein and Charles Murray claimed a correlation between race and intelligence in their controversial 1994 book, "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life."

Discoveries linking race with susceptibility to various physical ailments — say to cancer, malaria or sickle cell anemia — appear to be tolerable, but geneticists devoutly wish to avoid finding any connection between race and cognition.

Hopefully, researchers will find no such troublesome connection. But recent studies, cited in the article in The New York Times, suggest that we can now "roughly predict the level of formal education completed by white Americans by looking at their DNA."

What if these studies hold up and can be generalized to a broader range of racial groups?

Geneticists would not be the only scientists whose conclusions upset many people. Many conservative politicians reject scientists' consensus that human activities are accelerating potentially disastrous global warming.

Many liberals reject experts' conclusion that genetically modified crops don't endanger health. The Catholic hierarchy reacted badly when Galileo's telescope confirmed Copernicus' conclusion that the earth is not the center of the solar system.

If a connection between race and IQ is ever proved we will need to understand why this will not support racist claims. The very most that could be established would be a difference between the average IQ of different groups of individuals.

Within each group, the IQs of its members — like all IQs — would be graphed as a bell-shaped curve — which is where Hernstein and Murray got their book title.

There would be a wide spread between the lowest and highest individual IQs in each group, with those of the vast majority of members falling somewhere in between.

In our daily lives, we always deal with specific individuals. For practical purposes, information about the average IQ of a group tells us exactly nothing about the IQ of any specific individual member of that group.

Racists who assume that they know everything important about someone merely because he or she is a member of a certain group would therefore be drawing conclusions that go way beyond anything that could be supported by science.

They would be stereotyping, drawing incorrect conclusions about specific individuals on the basis of generalizations that do not support their conclusions.

Anybody who interprets any difference between average IQs of different races to mean that all individuals of one race are superior to all members of another race is ignoring the basic nature of IQ distributions. Such an interpretation is not merely unsupported by science, it is contradicted by science.

The key word here obviously, is distribution, which is what bell-shaped IQ curves depict. Any specific individual could be anywhere within that distribution.

If a difference in average IQ were ever proved, the worst it could do would be to undermine efforts to prove discrimination by using statistics about the percentages of different racial groups in particular professions, schools, or corporations.

But such use of statistics was never persuasive anyway since there is no way to prove that a particular number of people of a given race ought to be doctors, students, corporate executives, or professional basketball players.

Racism has aptly been called "America's original sin."

Despite considerable progress, it is still a horrible problem for a country whose founding document proclaimed that "All men are created equal."

To put racism totally behind us will require clear thinking. Geneticists should relax. People who think clearly will understand that any discovery they make could never prove that racism has a scientific basis.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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PaulFdeLespinasse
Racism has aptly been called "America's original sin." Despite considerable progress, it is still a horrible problem for a country whose founding document proclaimed that "All men are created equal."
genetically, iq, racial, scientific
871
2019-43-13
Wednesday, 13 February 2019 09:43 AM
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