All Brains Are the Same Color by Robert Nisbett

Psychology Professor Robert Nisbett on Race and IQ, NYT op-ed 12-9-07

Professor Robert Nisbett summarizes current research and thinking on alleged racial differences in IQ and concludes as follows: "...we know that interventions at every age from infancy to college can reduce racial gaps in both I.Q. and academic achievement, sometimes by substantial amounts in surprisingly little time. The mutability is further evidence that the I.Q. difference has environmental, not genetic, causes. And it should encourage us, as a society, to see that all children receive ample opportunity to develop their minds." Here's a link to Professor Nisbett's op-ed:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/09/opinion/09nisbett.html

A bit of irony--James Watson's Black Genes

According to recent analysis of his genome, James Watson has 16 times more genes of African origin than the average European. Nobel Prize winner Watson was recently fired from his job as director of the Cold Stream Long Island Laboratory as a result of comments in London which were deemed racially offensive and expressive of opinions beyond the scope of his scientific expertise. The Cold Stream Laboratory supported the eugenics movement early in the 20th century. Here's a link to an article on Watson's impalement on his own black sword in today's NYT, 12-12-07:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/12/science/12watson.html.

Letters to the NYT 12-16-07

Letters

The I.Q. Gap: Culture Trumps Genes Published: December 16, 2007

To the Editor:

Op-Ed Contributor: All Brains Are the Same Color (December 9, 2007)

Richard E. Nisbett ("All Brains Are the Same Color," Op-Ed, Dec. 9) does the black-white I.Q. debate a service by adroitly picking apart hereditarians' arguments.

What's always odd about I.Q. discussions, however, is that I.Q. is used synonymously with intelligence. It's pretty hard to argue that on average blacks aren't as smart as whites without really knowing what intelligence is or what I.Q. tests measure.

I.Q. tests were created in the early 1900s before scientists had sufficient understanding of the brain or genetics. They were cobbled together with no real intelligence theory - developed and adapted to test children in French classrooms, immigrants at Ellis Island and soldiers in the Army during World War I - and they have changed very little over time.

If we want intelligence tests, we need to devise new ones based on actual scientific theory rather than Victorian and Progressive Era puffery. Until then, at the very least, we should have a healthy agnosticism about who is smarter than whom.

Stephen Murdoch

Santa Barbara, Calif., Dec. 10, 2007

The writer is the author of a book about the history of I.Q. tests.

To the Editor:

As Richard E. Nisbett shows, the evidence now indicates that the black-white gap is environmental in origin and can be reduced through environmental influences. The most recent evidence on this point comes from the long-term trend data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the nation's report card).

Between the early 1970s and 2004, the reading and math scores of black children have risen faster than the scores for white children. Among 9-year-olds, black children have closed more than a third of the black-white gap that existed in the early 1970s. Progress has also been made by 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds.

Changes in genetic endowment cannot explain these gains over time. Rather, the narrowing of the gaps suggests that improvements in home and school environments play causal roles.

Jane Waldfogel

New York, Dec. 10, 2007

The writer is a professor of social work and public affairs at the Columbia University School of Social Work.

To the Editor:

I.Q. is not an inherent trait - it is an invention that measures how much a person knows within one's cultural context, which is why the environment makes such a profound difference in one's score.

I.Q. tests are notoriously biased against anyone who is not white, male and middle class. Numerous studies have shown that it is not a valid measure of intelligence and, indeed, even white people who come from other cultures score poorly on the tests.

The idea that psychologists are still trying to find racial differences in I.Q. scores is maddening. Moreover, we know that there are far more genetic differences within races than between them.

The real point of interest is why people do this research in the first place. These studies tell us nothing about intelligence, black people, white people, genetics or environment. What they really show is the inherent racism of the ones doing the research.

Leeat Granek

Toronto, Dec. 10, 2007

To the Editor:

Having seen many brains at autopsy and in teaching labs, I can confirm the statement that "All Brains Are the Same Color." But the discussion of genetic determination of intellectual capacity falls short of the mark.

It is not the genetic DNA in a cell that determines what a cell is and how it performs; it is, rather, which genes are turned on and when. Turning a gene on or off can be controlled by a wide variety of factors in life: toxins, learning, disease, hormones, drugs, diet - the list is numberless.

We now know enough about the fine structure of the brain, the proteins involved and the roles they play in learning, cognition, memory and other components of intelligence to understand that the DNA of genes are, generally, many steps removed from determining these capacities. Any study of the genetics of possible racial differences in intelligence must be based not on genes but on knowledge of the fine structure and proteins of the brain. These can provide objective, quantifiable measures.

Such a study must also be conducted on groups that have been rigorously matched on the basis of all the factors that can affect gene expression and protein production and processing, like age, gender, environment, diet, drug and toxin exposure - a daunting, if not impossible, task.

Paul Coleman

Sun City, Ariz., Dec. 10, 2007

The writer is senior scientist and co-director of Alzheimer's research at Sun Health Research Institute.

To the Editor:

As heartening as I found Richard E. Nisbett's arguments against a correlation between race and intelligence, I find it difficult to overlook the fact that one of the world's most eminent scientists, James D. Watson, recently lost his job for taking the opposite position.

Under such circumstances, essays like Professor Nisbett's take on the air of dogma. One is left to wonder what researchers might find or say if their careers and reputations weren't threatened by academic McCarthyism.

Joshua P. Hill

New London, Conn., Dec. 10, 2007

To the Editor:

Perhaps Richard E. Nisbett's report on studies that show the effect of environment on I.Q. scores has provided an answer to a question I have pondered for many years. When I was in high school, I scored 115 on an I.Q. test, but when I had another I.Q. test many years later, I scored over 130. Why the increase?

My skin color hadn't changed, but my environment certainly had. I grew up in a small town with a father who had dropped out of school in the sixth grade and a mother who was the only one of six children who graduated from high school.

When I took the second I.Q. test some 30 years later, I was living in Baltimore because my husband was a tenured professor at Johns Hopkins University. I had just completed a master's degree and was thinking of applying for admission to a doctoral program.

Lucille Coleman

Baltimore, Dec. 9, 2007

What IQ Doesn't Tell You About Race by Malcolm Gladwell The New Yorker 12-17-07

Malcolm Gladwell's review of James Flynn's new book "What is Intelligence?" is well worth reading if you don't have the time or inclination to read the book itself. Gladwell is especially good at explaining science in a way that is both fascinating and easy for the educated layman to understand.

Gladwell agrees with Flynn's conclusion that the black-white IQ gap is due to differing cognitive environments, not genetic factors. He describes a recent debate in New York City between Flynn and "Bell Curve" author Charles Murray.

Flynn's work resulted in what has come to be known as the "Flynn effect," an increase in IQs of about .3 points per year since the 1930s. "If an American born in the 1930s has an IQ of 100, the Flynn effect suggests that his children will have IQs of 108, and his grandchildren IQs of close to 120. If we work in the opposite direction, the typical teenager of today, with an IQ of 100, would have had grandparents with average IQs of 82--seemingly below the threshold of being able to graduate from high school." If the tests really measured genetic intelligence, going backward in time, the U.S. in 1900 "was populated largely by people who today would be considered mentally retarded."

Gladwell goes on to poke holes in the theories of prominent eugenicists and psychometricians as well as Salon ninny William Saletan's recent defense of James Watson's statement on race and IQ that got him fired from Cold Stream Harbor Lab. According to Gladwell, Saletan drew heavily on J. Philippe Rushton--a psychologist "who specializes in comparing the circumference of what he calls the Negroid brain with the length of the Negroid penis..."

Gladwell's article is well worth reading.

http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2007/12/17/071217crbo_books_gladwell

Comments 6 comments

MrMarmalade profile image

MrMarmalade 8 years ago from Sydney

How often do we impale ourselve on these swords?

A very good hub

Thank you


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

Thanks for the comment.


Josh019 7 years ago

1. Gladwell's counterpoint is convincing if you have no idea about psychometric research, the Flynn effect and twin studies.

2. In relation to the Flynn effect this is attributed to a combination of different environments (most gains are domain specific) and improved nutrition in some cases. However, there is no sign that this has actually reduced the b-w gap over the past 30 years. The B-W IQ gap is larger at the highest level of SES than at the lowest. There have been literally hundreds of IQ studies of various racial groups from many different countries and they show the same outcome.

Also, the Ashkenazi Jewish average remains about 2/3 of a std deviation above the white average. East Asians (those of Japanese, Chinese or Korean ancestry) average above Europeans. These gaps aren't closing.

3. Looking at children's scores overlooks the point that the impact of hereditability increases with age. This is long before the shared environmental component vanishes. The IQ boosts that have been reported with Head Start type interventions were temporary (very short lived) and were believed to be largely the result of teaching to the test. The shared environmental component equals zero for adults.

4. If you look at twin and adoption studies all adopted children reached adult IQs that were equal to their biological peers and which had no correlation with their adoptive families. Transracial studies were not limited to Blacks adopted by Whites but included Asians adopted by Whites. The Blacks ended up with lower IQs than their adoptive families and the Asians ended up with IQs higher than their adoptive families. 

5. The GI study in WWII is not convincing. It is known as the Eyferth study. Environmental proponents always cite it because they have not found any other evidence to cite. Note that:

* The "study" consisted of a very small N. Some citations claim 98 and some 69.

* Although the children's IQ was measured, the parents' IQ was not measured (neither was the rank of the US military father measured). So it is not known whether the children inherited the parental IQ.

* About 30 percent of US blacks failed pre-induction mental tests for the military, compared with 3 percent of white. So US black soldiers were a more IQ-selected and less-representative sample of their population than were white soldiers.

* Children were tested prior to the age at which the genotypic aspect of intelligence has become fully manifested.

* 20% to 25% of the Black fathers were not African Americans but French North Africans.

6. Electroencephalography measurements of various types confirm the W-B gap. In fact, there are two index methods, using average evoked potentials and amplitude measurements, that can measure g as well as the best IQ tests.

7. The gap is lower on culturally loaded tests and higher on culture free or culture fair tests. The reason is that Spearman's Hypothesis has been shown to be correct. When cultural factors are removed from tests, the resulting tests are more g-loaded. As g-loading increases, the W-B gap increases. (Jensen, Bias in Mental Testing)

8. The rate of evolution has sped up over the past 10,000 years. For example, you see new versions of SLC6A4, a serotonin transporter, in Europeans and Asians. There’s a new version of a gene (DBA1) that shapes the development of the layers of the cerebral cortex in east Asia.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 7 years ago Author

Thanks for your comment. I'm not competent to deal with your points. However, I wonder about your motives and those of people, such as the Thernstroms, who are preoccupied with "proving" the position that you espouse. They are coming from a quite different perspective than Professor Nesbitt and my own, one which tends to undermine efforts to improve our child care and education non-system in this country. And I wonder why you didn't to attach your name to your comment?? Why don't you crawl out from under your rock into the sunlight?


gjjhh 5 years ago

Josh...ur arguments are debunked...correlation is not causation.


just86 5 years ago

The so called French North African troops were often substantially made up of Senegalese and other black west Africans, who at times made up a large percent of the troops stationed in Morocco during and between the wars. Senegalese soldiers ( also known as the Tirailleurs Senegalais) were a significant part of the French army all over the empire as far as Madagascar, and during the wars in Europe.

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    Rising Above I.Q.

    By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

    Published: June 6, 2009

    In the mosaic of America, three groups that have been unusually successful are Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks — and in that there may be some lessons for the rest of us.


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    Nicholas D. Kristof


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    Asian-Americans are renowned — or notorious — for ruining grade curves in schools across the land, and as a result they constitute about 20 percent of students at Harvard College.

    As for Jews, they have received about one-third of all Nobel Prizes in science received by Americans. One survey found that a quarter of Jewish adults in the United States have earned a graduate degree, compared with 6 percent of the population as a whole.

    West Indian blacks, those like Colin Powell whose roots are in the Caribbean, are one-third more likely to graduate from college than African-Americans as a whole, and their median household income is almost one-third higher.

    These three groups may help debunk the myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect, for they represent three different races and histories. In the debate over nature and nurture, they suggest the importance of improved nurture — which, from a public policy perspective, means a focus on education. Their success may also offer some lessons for you, me, our children — and for the broader effort to chip away at poverty in this country.

    Richard Nisbett cites each of these groups in his superb recent book, “Intelligence and How to Get It.” Dr. Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that what we think of as intelligence is quite malleable and owes little or nothing to genetics.

    “I think the evidence is very good that there is no genetic contribution to the black-white difference on I.Q.,” he said, adding that there also seems to be no genetic difference in intelligence between whites and Asians. As for Jews, some not-very-rigorous studies have found modestly above-average I.Q. for Ashkenazi Jews, though not for Sephardic Jews. Dr. Nisbett is somewhat skeptical, noting that these results emerge from samples that may not be representative.

    In any case, he says, the evidence is overwhelming that what is distinctive about these three groups is not innate advantage but rather a tendency to get the most out of the firepower they have.

    One large study followed a group of Chinese-Americans who initially did slightly worse on the verbal portion of I.Q. tests than other Americans and the same on math portions. But beginning in grade school, the Chinese outperformed their peers, apparently because they worked harder.

    The Chinese-Americans were only half as likely as other children to repeat a grade in school, and by high school they were doing much better than European-Americans with the same I.Q.

    As adults, 55 percent of the Chinese-American sample entered high-status occupations, compared with one-third of whites. To succeed in a profession or as managers, whites needed an average I.Q. of about 100, while Chinese-Americans needed an I.Q. of just 93. In short, Chinese-Americans managed to achieve more than whites who on paper had the same intellect.

    A common thread among these three groups may be an emphasis on diligence or education, perhaps linked in part to an immigrant drive. Jews and Chinese have a particularly strong tradition of respect for scholarship, with Jews said to have achieved complete adult male literacy — the better to read the Talmud — some 1,700 years before any other group.

    The parallel force in China was Confucianism and its reverence for education. You can still sometimes see in rural China the remains of a monument to a villager who triumphed in the imperial exams. In contrast, if an American town has someone who earns a Ph.D., the impulse is not to build a monument but to pass a hat.

    Among West Indians, the crucial factors for success seem twofold: the classic diligence and hard work associated with immigrants, and intact families. The upshot is higher family incomes and fathers more involved in child-rearing.

    What’s the policy lesson from these three success stories?

    It’s that the most decisive weapons in the war on poverty aren’t transfer payments but education, education, education. For at-risk households, that starts with social workers making visits to encourage such basic practices as talking to children. One study found that a child of professionals (disproportionately white) has heard about 30 million words spoken by age 3; a black child raised on welfare has heard only 10 million words, leaving that child at a disadvantage in school.

    The next step is intensive early childhood programs, followed by improved elementary and high schools, and programs to defray college costs.

    Perhaps the larger lesson is a very empowering one: success depends less on intellectual endowment than on perseverance and drive. As Professor Nisbett puts it, “Intelligence and academic achievement are very much under people’s control.”

    Eugenics Movement

    Eugenics movement reaches its height
    1923

    Photo: This family was awarded Honorable Mention, Large Family Class, as part of a eugenics exhibit at a Kansas fair in 1923.

    The term eugenics comes from the Greek roots for "good" and "generation" or "origin" and was first used to refer to the "science" of heredity and good breeding in about 1883.

    Within 20 years, the word was widely used by scientists who had rediscovered the work of Gregor Mendel. Mendel had meticulously recorded the results of cross-breeding pea plants, and found a very regular statistical pattern for features like height and color. This introduced the concept of genes, opening the field of genetics to a tumultuous century of research. One path of genetic research branched off into the shadows of social theory, and in the first quarter of the twentieth century became immensely popular as eugenics. It was presented as a mathematical science that could be used to predict the traits and behaviors of humans, and in a perfect world, to control human breeding so that people with the best genes would reproduce and thus improve the species. It was an optimistic school of thought with a profound faith in the powers of Science.

    The trappings of science, anyway. Even in its day, many people saw that eugenics was a dubious discipline, riddled with inconsistencies. But it was championed by a very prominent and respected biologist, Charles Davenport, and its conclusions told many people what they wanted to hear: that certain "racial stock" was superior to others in such traits as intelligence, hard work, cleanliness, and so on. In this view of human behavior, the work of Sigmund Freud was disregarded, while the ideas of behaviorism were just gaining ground.

    Local eugenics societies and groups sprang up around the United States after World War I, with names like the Race Betterment Foundation. The war had given many Americans a greater fear of foreigners, and immigration to the United States was still increasing. In 1923, organizers founded the American Eugenics Society, and it quickly grew to 29 chapters around the country. At fairs and exhibitions, eugenicists spread the word and hosted "fitter family" and "better baby" competitions to award blue ribbons to the finest human stock -- not unlike the awards for prize bull and biggest pumpkin. Not only did eugenicists promote better breeding, they wanted to prevent poor breeding or the risk of it. That meant keeping people with undesireable traits in their heritage (including alcoholism, pauperism, or epilepsy) separate from others or, where law allowed, preventing them from reproducing.

    These vocal groups advocated laws to attain their aims, and in 1924, the Immigration Act was passed by majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. It set up strict quotas limiting immigrants from countries believed by eugenicists to have "inferior" stock, particularly Southern Europe and Asia. President Coolidge, who signed the bill into law, had stated when he was vice president, "America should be kept American. . . . Biological laws show that Nordics deteriorate when mixed with other races."

    Behaviorism was introduced in 1913, and the genetic work of Thomas Hunt Morgan and others became known through the 'teens. After World War I, few scientists joined the ranks of the eugenicists. As the weight of the scientific community shifted toward behaviorism and true genetics, popular opinion followed. John Watson's articles about childrearing and self-improvement popularized behaviorism still further. The eugenics craze was already fading when the horrors of institutionalized eugenics revealed in Nazi Germany during World War II doused it entirely as a movement.



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