At the end of my essay What good
is IQ?, I suggested that taking IQ seriously might (among other
things) be an important step towards banishing racism. The behavioral
differences between two people who are far apart on the IQ scale are
far more significant than any we can associate with racial origin.
Stupidity isn’t a handicap only when solving logic problems; people
with low IQs tend to have poor impulse control because they’re not
good at thinking about the long-term consequences of their actions.
Somebody left a comment that, if what I was reporting about group
differences in average IQ is correct, the resulting behavior would be
indistinguishable from racism. In particular, American blacks (with
an average IQ of 85) would find themselves getting the shitty end of
the stick again, this time with allegedly scientific justification.
This is an ethically troubling point. It’s the main reason most
people who know the relevant statistical facts about IQ distribution
are either in elaborate denial or refusing to talk about what they know.
But is this concern really merited, or is it a form of tendermindedness
that does more harm than good?
Let’s start with a strict and careful definition: A racist is a
person who makes unjustified assumptions about the behavior or
character of individuals based on beliefs about group racial
I think racism, in this sense, is an unequivocally bad thing. I
think most decent human beings would agree with me. But if we’re
going to define racism as a bad thing, then it has to be a behavior
based on unjustified assumptions, because otherwise there
could be times when the fear of an accusation of racism could prevent
people from seeking or speaking the truth.
There are looser definitions abroad. Some people think it is
racist merely to believe there are significant differences
between racial groups. But that is an abuse of the term, because it
means that believing the objective truth, without any intent to use it
to prejudge individuals, can make you a racist.
It is, for example, a fact that black athletes tend to perform
better in hot weather, white ones in cool weather, and oriental asians
in cold weather. There is nothing mysterious about this; it has to do
with surface-area-to-volume ratios in the population’s typical
build. Tall, long-limbed people shed heat more rapidly than stocky and
short-limbed people. That’s an advantage in Africa, less of one in the
Caucasian homelands of Europe and Central Asia, and a disadvantage in
the north Asian homeland of oriental asians.
And that’s right, white men can’t jump; limb length matters there,
too. But whites can swim better than blacks, on average,
because their bones are less dense. I don’t have hard facts on
how asians fit that picture, but if you are making the same guess I am
(at the other extreme from blacks, that is better swimmers and worse
jumpers than white people) I would bet money we’re both correct. That
would be consistent with the pattern of many other observed racial
Sportswriter and ethicist Jon Entine has investigated the
statistics of racial differences in sports extensively. Blacks,
especially blacks of West African ancestry, dominate track-and-field
athletics thanks apparently to their more efficient lung structure and
abundance of fast-twitch muscle fiber. Whites, with proportionally
shorter legs and more powerful upper bodies, still rule in wrestling
and weightlifting. The bell curves overlap, but the means — and
the best performances at the high end of the curve — differ.
Even within these groups, there are racially-correlated
subdivisions. Within the runners, your top sprinters are likelier to
be black than your top long-distance runners. Blacks have more of an
advantage in burst exertion than they do in endurance. I don’t have
hard recent data on this as I do for the other factual claims I’m
making here, but it is my impression that whites cling to a thin lead
in sports that are long-haul endurance trials — marathons,
bicycle racing, triathlons, and the like.
It is not ‘racism’ to notice these things. Or, to put
it more precisely, if we define ‘racism’ to include
noticing these things, we broaden the word until we cannot justifiably
condemn ‘racism’ any more, because too much
‘racism’ is simply recognition of empirically verifiable
truths. It’s all there in the numbers.
Knowing about these racial-average differences in athletic
performance would not justify anyone in keeping a tall, long-limbed
white individual off the track team, or a stocky black person with
excellent upper-body strength off the wrestling team. But they do
make nonsense of the notion that every team should have a racial
composition mirroring the general population. If you care about
performance, your track team is going to be mostly black and your
wrestling team mostly white.
In fact, trying to achieve ‘equal‘ distribution is a
recipe for making disgruntled underperforming white runners and
basketball players, and digruntled underperforming black wrestlers and
swimmers. It’s no service to either group, you get neither efficiency
nor happiness out of that attempt.
Most people can follow the argument this far, but are frightened of
what happens when we apply the same kind of dispassionate analysis to
racial differences in various mental abilities. But the exact same
logic applies. Observing that blacks have an average IQ a standard
deviation below the average for whites is not in itself racist.
Jumping from that observation of group differences to denying an
individual black person a job because you think it means all black
people are stupid would be racist.
Let’s pick neurosurgery as an example. Here is a profession where
IQ matters in an obvious and powerful way. If you’re screening people
for a job as a neurosurgeon, it would nevertheless be wrong to use the
standard-deviation difference in average IQ as a reason to exclude an
individual black candidate, or black candidates as a class. This
would not be justified by the facts; it would be stupid and
immoral. Excluding the black neurosurgeon-candidate who is
sufficiently bright would be a disservice to a society that needs all
the brains and talent it can get in jobs like that, regardless of skin
On the other hand, anyone who expects the racial composition of the
entire population of neurosurgeons to be ‘balanced’ in
terms of the population at large is living in a delusion. The most
efficient and fair outcome would be for that population to be balanced
in terms of the distribution of IQ — at each level of IQ the
racial mix mirrors the frequency of that IQ
level within different groups. Since that minimum IQ for
competency in neurosurgery is closer to the population means for
whites and asians than the mean for blacks, we can expect the
fair-outcome population of neurosurgeons to be predominantly white and
If you try to social-engineer a different outcome, you’ll simply
create a cohort of black neurosurgeons who aren’t really bright enough
for their jobs. This, too, would be a disservice to society (not to
mention the individual patients they might harm, and the competent
black neurosurgeons that would be discredited by association). It’s
an error far more serious than trying to social-engineer too many
black wrestlers or swimmers into existence. And yet, in pursuit of a
so-called equality, we make this sort of error over and over again,
injuring all involved and creating resentments for racists to feed