Wednesday, December 07, 2011

The group-intelligence controversy revisited

In some recent postings at his Daily Dish site, Andrew Sullivan has returned to the matter of group differences in intelligence, reflecting his most controversial decision when he edited The New Republic quite a few years back. The conversation continued at his Facebook spot, but I have been unable to retrieve it again.

The discussion is basically a dialogue of the deaf, with opinions splitting along familiar right-left lines. One left-leaning commentator insists that we are all members of the human race. Yes, indeed, but that does not mean that there are not aggregate differences among population groups. In a series of studies, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza has shown that, based on mitochondrial and other DNA evidence, there are significant differences among population groups or pools. In this way, he has been able to construct evolutionary trees, showing how these differences arose and were confirmed.

Another common argument among the left-leaning faction is that one can measure individual intelligence but never group intelligence--between blacks and whites, women and men, and so forth. Well, if we can study differences in height and eye color on a group basis, why not do the same for intelligence? This taboo seems political, with no discernible objective basis.

Left-leaning observers often complain, with much justice, that conservatives who deny evolution and climate change are anti-science. In this matter of group intelligence, though, it is the left-leaning people who are anti-science. Both groups seem to adhere to a cafeteria approach to scientific evidence.

I confess that I have doubts about reducing the question of intelligence to g (or general intelligence). There are other aspects of intelligence, such as can-do knowledge and sensitivity to the needs of other people, that are not included under this rubric. Still, no one has been able to work out an acceptable pluralistic theory of intelligence(s) that would include all the significant variables.



Anonymous Thomas Kraemer said...

Although I support research on measuring intelligence and to understand the reasons for average differences between groups, I do not support such research if it is done in a way that could harm any group.

An analogy is the gay sheep and fruit fly research being done to understand the genetic and developmental reasons for humans or animals to have a minority sexual orientation or gender identity. Such research will likely discover a "treatment" that could physically change gays to be straight.

Some gay people might want to ban such research because it might be used to create "cures" for being gay and then be used to justify legally harming gays who "chose" not to become straight.

In the past, intelligence research has been similarly misused to harm certain groups instead of to better understand or help all humans.

2:13 PM  
Blogger Dyneslines said...

In all candor, Thomas, the "do no harm" criterion seems problematic when it comes to scientific investigations. Could not evangelical Christians complain that studies of evolution are harming them?

Put differently, this argument is a version of the principle lawyers call the heckler's veto. That is, the idea that some demonstration or other public manifestation may be halted when someone issues a threat to disrupt it.

11:01 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home