Racial Group Differences

Nature or Nurture?

I seem to repeatedly point out that I don’t rule out genetic group differences. I simply think that his should be the last explanation one should reach for.

I am currently reading Angela Saini’s awesome book “Superior: The Return of Race Science.” It is probably a good book to better understand my perspective on race.

We have a long and ugly history of attributing to race what is really caused by cultural and historical differences as well as racism and discrimination. And that story has never really ended. She has a number of great example of how even to this day researchers keep announcing some racial explanation for a difference observed whether in cognitive ability or health outcomes only to later get debunked.

The goalpost is always moving. When whites came to Asia about 100 years ago, all sorts of tests demonstrated that Asians where more stupid. Observations pointed to them being lazy, stupid, ignorant and simply lesser people. It was declared that Japan e.g. could never reach western level of development because its people where simply too stupid and lazy to achieve that.

Of course the story changes with success. As soon as Japan has had amazing success. The story is revised. Suddenly race researchers claim Japanese people are exceptionally talented. One has seen this kind of stories play out with Irish people, Polish people, Chinese, Jews, just about anyone who has at some point been a marginalized group.

The same logic is used every time. Failure is explained by racial inferiority. As soon as success is achieved, the racial hierarchies are simply revised. None of these people seem to acknowledge that their basic premise is entirely wrong, and that what is driving the changes in outcomes such as crime, IQ etc is primarily from economic development.

My question is, how many times does race scientists have to be proven wrong, before they stop insisting on racial explanations for every human difference we see?

Back in the 30s Nazi scientists claimed schizophrenia was a uniquely Jewish trait because Jews got diagnosed with it twice as often as other people. As Jews have moved up this condition is no longer observed. Today people claim Schizophrenia is a unique black thing. The old racist assumptions never die. They just get repackaged and applied to new races.

Blacks e.g. have poor health outcomes in almost every category in America. Yet researchers have eagerly sought to explain this as being caused by race, rather than social factors. America does not want to acknowledge that they have an unequal society where some people are treated like shit and others are treated better.

So when blacks have far worse health outcomes. One is immediately in denial about the damaging effects of racism and discrimination. Instead one eagerly seeks are racial and biological explanation. Americans don’t want to acknowledge that America isn’t a land of equal opportunity where anyone can become whatever they want.

The Swede Gunnar Myrdal wrote the book “An American Dilemma” based on his studies of American race relations. He began studying how blacks where treated and how white and black Americans viewed each other all the way back in 1939.

My wife is currently reading the book. So pardon me if I get this wrong, but my impression was that he was actually paid by an American University to study why African-Americans was so far behind. The assumption seemed to be that this was a way to get an outsider to write a sort of glowing review of how great America was and get an impartial third party to document the backwardsness of African-Americans. That pretty much backfired.

He was supposed to write about the “Negro Problem” but concluded that America did not have a “Negro Problem,” but rather that the problem was with white Americans and their attitudes.

When I hear excerpts from this book today, it sound strangely familiar to the current American debate. Little seems to have fundamentally changed since 1939. Even back then white Southerners insisted that there was no problem. That African-Americans in fact have exactly the same opportunities as whites. They insist that their bad outcomes are entirely themselves to blame.

One sees exactly the same victim blaming and rethoric used today as back then. To us today, making such claims about racism not really existing or being a problem back in the deep South in 1939 seems utterly laughable. But why should we believe the claims made today will not look any less laughable in a few more decades?

I saw the same arguments made during the civil rights movements in the 1960s. Whites also back then argued there was no discrimination, and that blacks could only blame themselves.

We where led to believe the same in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan let the CIA smuggle cocain into black neighborhoods, sparking the crack pandemic. Even then blacks got all the blame for their own predicament.

It is an old ugly story that gets repeated over and over again. I don’t see why we should take it more serious today.

The IQ gap between African Americans and whites have rapidly been narrowing. The more developed countries in the world such as the Nordics have long stagnated with respect to the Flynn effect.

Meanwhile significantly less developed nations see rapid increases in average IQ score. These developments knock the legs under the assumptions that IQ is a fixed quanity giving a sort of genetic determinism for the success of a country. They get the cause and effect reversed.

Think about how your argument would work on gender differences.

Men are taller than women. The difference is large (1.5–2 standard deviations, I think?). I’d say that’s an obvious feature of biology.

I think it would work perfectly well with gender. If we observed that women where heavily discriminated against, getting worse food and nutrition than men by a noticable degree. Then it would be utterly premature that draw conclusions about exactly how much of the difference between the observable height difference between men and women was caused by genetics.

Until you even out the environmental conditions it would be premature to draw strong conclusions about height.

Of course this analogy is weak, because men and women are seldom treated markedly different in modern society in that regard. Also we know that men and women have other very clear physical differences.

They are after all different genders. To suggest the difference between blacks and whites could possible be as large as the difference between two gender requires quite a leap of faith IMHO.

We know a very different environmental pressure has worked on men and women because their roles are different. There is nothing comparable for different population groups. The visible “races” we see today are biologically fairly recent. Significant amount of mixing between people has happened since making any clear boundaries between people hard to draw.

And you could then conclude that women today are malnourished and we need to feed them more so that they catch up to men. Or you could conclude that height is just infinitely malleable, as in “who can really say what these gender differences in height mean?”

That does not logically follow from my thinking. I cannot observe a clear difference in access to nutrition for say Norwegian men and women.

Further I can observe from the rest of the animal kingdom that males and females more often than not have different size. Further I can rationalize this difference from an environmental perspective.

None of this argument can be made for say blacks and whites. The genetic difference between blacks and whites is smaller than between two groups of a apes in the same forrest. And in addition we can clearly see a difference in how blacks and whites are treated all over the world. Not just in America. Not to mention different background. Most black immigrants e.g. come from rather poor underdeveloped countries.

Within the US, there are differences in measured IQ between groups. The gap still exists when controlling for parental income or education.

But you cannot control for racism or culture, so that does not prove all that much. Drew Thomas provides a counterpoint here which gives these IQ scores.

Child and Parent | IQ Score
White-White | 101.8
Black-White | 98.5
Black-Black | 89.4

As you can see a black person growing up with white parents score pretty much the same as a white person on IQ tests. And keep in mind while this person gets the benefit of white-culture they still face the downsides of racism. That this knocks off a few points does not seem unreasonable to me. In other words I cannot see that there really is any difference between whites and blacks.

They’re consistent across time. They’re consistent in other countries around the world — Brazil has IQ gaps similar to the US, actually they might be even larger.

Come one man, are you serious? You use Brazil as an example? A country with rampant racism, extreme levels of inequality and terrible social mobility?

I haven’t studied the UK much, my rough understanding is that the test score gaps also point in the same direction (chinese > white > black), though the black/white gap is smaller. GCSE results suggest an even smaller gap, perhaps none at all.

I already commented on this in my original article on race and IQ. Several African subgroups where top performers. In fact Luganda and Krio speaking people did better than Chiense. The highest performing GCSE student was an Nigerian Igbo girl a few years ago.

And the worst performing groups are actually among whites in the UK. Eastern Europeans and Portuges do quite a lot worse. Low class white British do worst in these tests as far as I know.

All of this just emphasis a crucial fact about Africa, which is that there is far more genetic diversity in Africa than anywhere else. So talking about groups such as Hispanics, Whites, Asians etc makes no sense when all these groups are genetically far closer to each other than Africans.

As far as we know, the cognitive superior groups of people may actually be among African subgroups. There may of course also be those who are below average. But it seems utterly premature to simply categorize people by skin color. E.g. I read an example from the UK where everybody from Pakistan, Bangladesh and India get the same health advice because they are grouped for medical purposes, despite these groups of people have quite different outcomes on a lot of health metrics.

They don’t represent a homogenous group in terms of health outcomes and conditions at all. Most likely you could probably subdivide even these countries further into regions.

But we don’t do that, because as a society we love to put people into boxes based on skin color. We don’t group people based on say the local culture of one kind of group of people. Based on their particular lifestyle etc.

We don’t, because that is hard work. Race is the easy way out. We can all spot skin color right away. It is one of the things Angela Saini remarks on. Race is recorded in all sorts of circumstances in the US. Hence it becomes easy for researchers to use for all sorts of comparisons. Hence the whole things reinforces itself. You research on the data you have available.

If everybody had to record hair color, eye color or some other arbitrary physical trait, then there would be researchers looking for all sorts of correlations between eye color, income, crime or whatever.

This is the problem with a lot of the research. It becomes self fulfilling because it is based on racist assumptions to begin with.

I believe that African immigrants outperform other blacks, in both the US and the UK. I’m not sure if this is evidence of cultural differences or selection bias in immigration.

It is interesting though that people where never eager to use selection bias as an argument when applied to Asians. But when Africans do well, people desperately start looking for ways to cling onto their racial stereotypes.

We don’t however see a regression to an African mean which suggests this is just selection bias.

I have seen so much speculation on selection bias in other context that I am well aware of how eagerly people seek this as an explanation for whatever pet theories they have. Some seem to suggest America is richer and more prosperous than Europe e.g. because only the best and most hard working Europeans went to America. But that could be argued any way you like. It could also simply be the ones who failed in Europe and who had to leave.

Well, first off, I’d note that neither opinion is acceptable for me to have. I think I could get fired for putting my name on either one.

Are you really surprised by this? Given the exceptionally ugly history America has with racism, where people try to push a racist agenda 24/7, you have to assume people are touchy about this. I think one should be careful about feeling persecuted about this.

Yes I agree it is tricky to talk about this. But who’s fault is that exactly? It is easy to blame the loud SJW. But why do those people exist in the first place? It is because of a large group of rampant racist. Blame them first.

The only acceptable opinion at the moment is that the US is systemically racist,

I don’t think that is so strange. The evidence points towards systemic racism, and we have had and still have such a strong and concerted effort to promote scientific racism, that you cannot hold such a view as neutral.

I don’t think it is fair to insist that people should be entirely open minded about the arguments people make, when history shows that there has been a relentless push for racist theories. The race scientists just never give up. Racist pseudo-science is still today distributed widely in conservative circles.

You see major news Networks like FOX news push a racist agenda. This isn’t any odd scientific subject where there is nothing at stake. People’s lives and future are at stake here, and they don’t have a good reason to trust your sincerity when you claim you “only follow the evidence.”

And reality is that while you may not say overtly racist things in public in the US. You are free to use dog whistles all the time. Racist opinions are spread daily in American media and in comment fields, never getting censored because racists have learned to censor their language. They give it a nice wrapping. The racism isn’t gone just because racist have learned to stop using the N-word.

The lady who called the cops to arrest the black man who asked her to put her dog on a leech, never used any overt racist expressions such as the N-word. No, she used the PC term African-American. But did that make her actions any less racist?

and this can only be fixed by white people critically examining their fragility and racism.

No, I don’t think that is the case. Sure there is a lot of annoying people pushing white fragility. But I have always told people like that online to shove it, and I cannot say I received much blowback from it. Yes the SJW people will get pissed, but they really are minority. Most people are not like that.

I have no intention of engaging in self-flagellation because I am white. But I also think this is made into a typical anti-racist liberal thing. When IMHO this is really just an American thing.

Both American liberal and conservative circles are rather stifling and intolerant of diverging opinion. I have spent much time in conservative states, and politically correct statements are as valid in conservative as in liberal circles. There are certain things you should simply not say. First time I learned to self-censor myself was when I lived in conservative America.

Certain opinions may give you a lot if shit in liberal media. But think about all the people with liberal opinions growing up in conservative families. I would venture to guess they have a lot tougher time. Try being gay or an atheist in a deeply conservative American family. The accounts I have read are rather depressing.

I could probably say that Asians have a culture that’s better adapted for higher education and engineering jobs. I don’t think I could say that black people currently have a culture that’s poorly adapted for education and success.

I would say that, but I would generally avoid saying it because I am a human being with empathy and it is rather offensive thing to say. At least without providing context. I think you can actually say that if you provide context. I mean I basically say this all the time in my articles on medium, but I don’t frame it the way you do here.

The key thing when framing this is that you have to make sure to not come across as blaming minorities directly. You have to make it clear that the culture they have which pulls them back is a legacy of discrimination and racism over many years.

I definitely can’t say that there are genetic differences between groups, so referring to culture does seem like a safer opinion. It also gives more optimism that the gaps could change.

I am not sure it is impossible to say. What is toxic to say is to suggest blacks are in the situation they are in now due to genetic difference. It is not hard to understand why that is toxic. Because they know the hardship and discrimination they have faced. It would be quite offensive for somebody to tell them, that the blame for all the shit you have experience is inside your body. Inside your genes. When that cop roughed you up or punched you, that wasn’t his fault. No, somehow it was still your fault, because you got bad genes.

To parse the difference, I guess I would look at adoption studies. I would look at international trends in test scores to see if there are any outliers. I would try to find if there are any subgroups that have a different, more successful culture.

Several of these studies basically show no difference. And even if they show a difference we still would not be entirely certain as we don’t know how strong the effect of fetal environment is on development.

A perfect study would have to imply white women giving birth to e.g. 100 black babies. And one would have to have a large variety of blacks, because genetic difference is so large in Africa.

Secondly those kids would have to be raised in a country or area with minimal racism.

In short this task is next to impossible to accomplish. What I think you can do is rule out differences caused by race. You cannot easily prove that they exist because there are too many variables which are hard to control.

However we have the Drew Thomas study and I believe from Eric Turkheimer and Richard Nisbett which have studies suggesting there is no difference. Meanwhile we have studies from race realists which have often been deeply flawed, such as those from Richard Lynn. “Superior: The Return of Race Science,” gives several accounts of the problems with his studies and approach.

As far as I am concerned the proof thus far points to no racial difference in IQ caused by genetics. However race scientists have are still eagerly going at it trying to find differences. I find this relentless drive to prove differences rather distasteful. These people simply cannot accept that society isn’t equal and isn’t offering equal opportunity.

This isn’t even a new debate. It was the same in 1939. Americans could not accept that blacks where worse off due to any kind of discrimination. It was for ideological reasons of absolute necessity for them to prove racial inferiority of blacks.

Thus my advice to people who are upset that they get named and shamed over suggesting a racial difference in IQ, I suggest they read the history of this. They cannot possibly know the ugly past and how their arguments are just an endless repeat of what we have seen before.

In fact the more I learn about this, the more it reminds me of old debates I used to have with creationists. When I began reading Charles Darwins, the origin of specicies, I realized the argument of creationists had in fact no changed one iota. The same arguments where just getting rehashed and rephrased over 100 years later.

I am sorry this got kind of long. I have not really come up with a succinct way of making my argument. It takes some pondering to destil the core of ones thinking on a subject matter. So apologize for perhaps meandering around the subject. I probably need to read more on the subject.

My final thought is that I don’t think there ever will be some final study giving definite answers because there simply is not enough support or interest around the world to do this. Hence I think the pragmatic approach is to simply assume we are all equal and work toward ending discrimination and inequality. Let us see how far that approach gets us. We have in no way exhausted the potential there.

Written by

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store