Race and Intelligence – Science’s Last Taboo Review: Bang Goes The Theory

October 25, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Reviews

3rageh300RACE AND INTELLIGENCE – SCIENCE’S LAST TABOO: Monday 26th October, Channel 4, 10pm ALERT ME

When Nobel-prize winning scientist James Watson suggested that black people were naturally less intelligent than everyone else, normal citizens joined the PC freaks in enthusiastically battering the US academic.

As he was hounded from the British speaking circuit, Barack Obama was in the process of becoming the first brother to take up residence in the White House – surely we were now in an age when we didn’t have to bother with this kind of crap anymore.

Unfortunately, as Nick Griffin’s appearance on Question Time proves, we aren’t.

In this first episode of a new series from Channel 4, black journalist Rageh Omaar travels around chatting to various scientists as he tries to understand this pernicious reasoning which tries to divide the human race into a continental (and even more horrible) school league-table.

Omaar succeeds in creating a very absorbing documentary which delves into the cultures concerned and tackles the difficult questions head-on without making the mistake of automatically dismissing them.

He does that by simply highlighting gaping holes in these controversial theories.

According to the research in question, the East Asian race comes out on top in the IQ stakes, followed by white Europeans and finally black Americans and Africans.

But wait a minute, surely these results represent little more than wealth and standard of living? Well sort of, but as Rageh finds out, the real explanation for these warped conclusions is slightly more complicated.

He delves into the history of IQ testing, which to our not-so-great surprise turns out to be flawed in many respects – anyone who has had the pleasure of taking the 11 plus could have told him that though.

Furthers layers are added as Omaar references some of the most important pieces of race history in recent memory, from apartheid to segregation via a horrendous piece of US legislation which sanctioned the sterilisation of ‘scientifically diagnosed’ morons in the mid-20th century.

Important television.

Sean Marland

James Startham says:

I am half White and half Japanese but I have several black friends. Their intelligence differences has never been an issue for me. I am tired of racism. We need to lower the standards on the tests that black people take, kind of like affirmative action for test-taking. This will ensure that the resulting IQ scores of black people are on par with Asians and Whites, effectively ending this whole debate!!!

clive says:

blimey. some real strength in responses here! i found this show incredibly dismissive of medical research. if science can be proven, then its not about racial hatred. its about truth and fact.

Mathilda says:

This show was just about what I’d expected it would be- skillfully avoiding the mass of studies that have repeatedly shown (mainly via interracial adoption studies and MRI studies of brain volumes compared to IQ tests) that IQ is indeed variable between racial groups and is related to brain size, but it DID quote the solo study (which was tiny and deeply flawed) that seemed to point to the desired ‘its all made up by racists’ message the show was quite obviously pushing from the get go. It manfully misrepresented IQ tests by pretending that the high end sorter used on graduates was in any way like the standard IQ tests used on the general public, and which have ZERO relationship to the Raven’s matrices (visual puzzles) which are used to test in a culture-neutral way. It’s a total myth that IQ test are biased and not an accurate test of overall intelligence- on every occasion this has been claimed it has been proven to be untrue, and it’s really only trotted out as an argument now when the race/IQ subject is raised- just about all of America’s leading psychologists signed a long letter explaining this was a myth in the nineties.

I’d suggest reading the letters written by Linda S. Gottfredson if you want to see what psychologists really think about race and IQ (Egalitarian Fiction and Collective Fraud) where a study of psychology PHDs showed that the majority of them believed the difference was at least partly genetic, with the ‘all environment’ supporters being in a notably small minority.

The program was so phenomenonally biased that it bordered on the dishonest in its insistence that ‘only some’ scientists support innate racial differences (actually the majority of psychology professors asked) and that IQ tests are culturally biased/not good measures of real intelligence (also an opinion NOT shared by psychology doctorates or supported by the research into IQ and life outcome, with which I am also familiar).

I’d also applaud Dr Watson’s common sense on avoiding the show based on the treatment of Lynn and Jensen. They were allowed to voice their opinions, but were forbidden to show any of the mass of evidence that supports them (I’m assuming it was edited out). The presenter then called them racist for holding an opinion which is based on a lot of solid scientific data and which is shared by the majority of professionals in their common subject.

I’d also like to comment that ‘race isn’t real’ is very far from being a consensus among geneticists- being familiar with papers published post 2000 on the subject I can tell Channel 4 that a LOT of publishing geneticists are supporting the ‘race is real’ side of the debate (although since this didn’t support the drive of the show it was pretended that since Prof Steve Jones didn’t support race as a biological reality, all geneticists shared his POV).

I’d also like to torpedo the claims that East Asians do better because of their ‘studious culture’. East Asian children adopted into White American families show exactly the same higher IQ’s as their non adopted culturally Asian cohorts. Also not mentioned was that black children adopted by white families have the same IQ as other black Americans (so much for environment again) and that mixed race black/European children score halfway between the adopted white children and adopted black children- every interracial adoption study shows the same pattern.

Also not mentioned was the fact that IQ seems to be about 70% to 80% hereditable, with ‘virtual’ twins (different children adopted by the same parents at the same time) having a completely unrelated IQ scores- another blow to the ‘environment’ claims.

In all, this show was just a vehicle for Mr Omaar’s opinion in which scientific evidence to the contrary was scrupulously kept from the public eye and only the few people and single study that supported him were allowed to be more than a voiced inappropriate opinion to be denounced.

I was not impressed.

I was even less impressed when Channel 4 declined to allow this comment to be posted on the page for the program- it seems anyone quoting the actual evidence that supports the other side (of which there is a mass) is not permissable…

BTW- I started of five years ago in the ‘there’s no such thing as race and racial IQ differences are racist BS’ camp. The five years studying human intelligence and pyhsyical anthropology as well as a basic grounding in genetics have been a real eye opener.

Janette says:

Why is everybody slamming Watson? Examine what he said. He caused offence but at least he was honest. Think of the positive side. If he is right then we can help these subsaharan people in a different and more effective way. I have friends who are more clever and more creative and it is a pleasure to work with them. They are not scheming to put me down or exploiting me. I am happy that I work with cleverer people and we are creating things together. It is better to have a clever boss than a stupid one, the stupid ones exploit and do not help us.
Going back to the argument I see it like this. When the families that left Africa on the journey across the world started that trip they were few in number. They could only inbreed. Inbreeding can concentrate the genes. Look at all the races that came out of that. When you inbreed you concentrate the “intelligence” genes. Chances are that the stupid people perished because environments were so harsh (ice age and cold in Europe and so on). People had to learn to find and use materials and to hunt in novel ways. In subsaharan africa nothing really changed in 100000 years and no science or legacy came from there. You can hardly argue that was conditioning or slavery that kept those people down. So I believe that Watson was right. And tell me please: what is wrong in being stupid? being stupid is OK and cool. Success is only somewhat related to intelligence. The best chicks in my neighbourhood want guys with stronger abs or they want Beckham the footballer. They do not seem to be attracted to my rocket scientist friends!

Chen says:

1. I have little faith that this show would have provided an objective take on things as it relied on the Lewontin Fallacy (more within group gene variation than between group variation). This was debunked in 2003 by Cambridge geneticist AWF Edwards. The problem is that it overlooks the correlations and that genes vary in frequency across groups.

2. Efforts to tar iq tests with bad things in history overlook the fact that Stalin and Hitler banned IQ testing. In Hitler’s case he banned them because Jews did well on them.

3. IQ tests actually have a progressive background in allowing working class kids with academic ability to get into Colleges previously only for the rich.


4. Tests aren’t perfect but they predict academic performance very well. More recently neuroscientists have identified that people have quite distinct brain characteristics which correlate with iq test performance. These include cortical thickness, myelination quality and efficiency in processing info.

UCLA neuroscientist Paul Thompson & Yale Psychologist Jeremy Gray summarize these findings here.


5. These traits are significantly heritable.

“The UCLA researchers took the study a step further by comparing the white matter architecture of identical twins, who share almost all their DNA, and fraternal twins, who share only half. Results showed that the quality of the white matter is highly genetically determined, although the influence of genetics varies by brain area. According to the findings, about 85 percent of the variation in white matter in the parietal lobe, which is involved in mathematics, logic, and visual-spatial skills, can be attributed to genetics. But only about 45 percent of the variation in the temporal lobe, which plays a central role in learning and memory, appears to be inherited.

Thompson and his collaborators also analyzed the twins’ DNA, and they are now looking for specific genetic variations that are linked to the quality of the brain’s white matter. The researchers have already found a candidate–the gene for a protein called BDNF, which promotes cell growth. “People with one variation have more intact fibers,” says Thompson.”


6. Many genes have undergone significant change over the past 10,000 years so the possibility that groups would differ to some extent on average is not implausible.

“Dec. 10, 2007 – Researchers discovered genetic evidence that human evolution is speeding up – and has not halted or proceeded at a constant rate, as had been thought – indicating that humans on different continents are becoming increasingly different.

“We used a new genomic technology to show that humans are evolving rapidly, and that the pace of change has accelerated a lot in the last 40,000 years, especially since the end of the Ice Age roughly 10,000 years ago,” says research team leader Henry Harpending, a distinguished professor of anthropology at the University of Utah.

Harpending says there are provocative implications from the study, published online Monday, Dec. 10 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

“We aren’t the same as people even 1,000 or 2,000 years ago,” he says, which may explain, for example, part of the difference between Viking invaders and their peaceful Swedish descendants. “The dogma has been these are cultural fluctuations, but almost any Temperament trait you look at is under strong genetic influence.”

“Human races are evolving away from each other,” Harpending says. “Genes are evolving fast in Europe, Asia and Africa, but almost all of these are unique to their continent of origin. We are getting less alike, not merging into a single, mixed humanity.” He says that is happening because humans dispersed from Africa to other regions 40,000 years ago, “and there has not been much flow of genes between the regions since then.”