Monday, January 23, 2006

Dr. Jones: Slate's Metcalf redux

Again, Stephen Metcalf distorts the views of his opponents--but now with extra added vitriol! He's on an anti-Charles Murray rant this time. He's attacking Murray's new article at Commentary. Here's the line from Metcalf I want to take issue with:
[Murray] quickly proceeds to his famous argument that group differences in IQ between whites and blacks are primarily genetic.... (emphasis added, unless stated otherwise)
Actually, I can't find anywhere in the article where Murray says anything like that...

I can find this in his Commentary piece:
[T]he most interesting recent studies of environmental causes [of the Black-White IQ gap, by Berkeley anthropologist John Ogbu] have worked with cultural explanations instead of socioeconomic status...

From a theoretical standpoint, the cultural explanations offer fresh ways of looking at the black-white difference at a time when the standard socioeconomic explanations have reached a dead end. From a practical standpoint, however, the cultural explanations point to a cause of the black-white difference that is as impervious to manipulation by social policy as causes rooted in biology.

This brings us to the state of knowledge about genetic explanations [for the B-W IQ gap].....Actually, there is no direct evidence at all, just a wide variety of indirect evidence, almost all of which the task force chose to ignore....
All sounds kinda tentative to me.....Murray's recurring point is that whether it's primarily genetic or primarily cultural, it's still something you're unlikely to change within a couple of generations. Maybe you can find a "primarily genetic" smoking gun in there, but I can't....

And in Murray's ten-year old book, The Bell Curve, he and Herrnstein said this about the B-W IQ gap (or should I be PC and say "test score gap?":
If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or environmental explanations have won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other. It seems highly likely to us that both genes and environment have something to do with racial differences. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate.
(BTW, that quote comes from a very good Boston Review piece on The Bell Curve by philosopher/psychologist Ned Block.)

So, I'm not in the mood to dismantle Metcalf line by line (the tenure clock is ticking, after all), but I recommend reading it if only to smell the fear that seems endemic among the IQ-environmentalists these days. Here's hoping their fear is unjustified....

Now that Ogbu's gone--too, too young--the IQ-enviro camp needs to find another great mind to continue his valuable line of work. I wish them the very best of luck, and I hope they stay as far away as possible from "friends" like Metcalf.

Posted by Garett Jones at 10/20/2005 04:19:00 PM


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