Well, no, not quite

Any link between skin colour and brain power was long ago disproved by science.

Hesitant though I am to argue with a scientist of Steve Jones\’ standing, this isn\’t actually true.

We can see links between average brain power of this group as against that group very easily. And yes, many of those groups are delineated by skin colour.

What is true is that, having found those links between skin colour and brain power we find two further things. Firstly, that we can see links between skin colour and other factors known to influence brain power. Poverty, access to education, childhood nutrition, social pressures to develop innate intelligence (whatever that I in IQ might actually be) and so on.

Secondly, and much more importantly, that differences between group averages don\’t in fact matter: for variances around those averages within groups are vastly greater than the between group differences.

Say, arguendo, that the group average IQ for white Britons is 100 and that for black Britons is 105. The within group variance will still be from the roughly 60 at which someone can just about function in the world to the super-genius levels of 150, 160, 180. So while we may see this, on average, lower IQ of the whites, it doesn\’t tell us anything interesting at all about any random individual or small group placed in front of us. They will still be spread on that 60-180 span.

So it\’s irrelevant.

(There is an argument that looking at the very tails of the distributions might lead us to something: but that\’s an argument about greater variance within groups (standard deviations etc), nothing to do with the averages. For example, the preponderance of males amongst top tier university mathematics professors has nothing to do with average male or female ability at maths. It\’s to do with greater variance within males, more fools and more geniuses. At least, that\’s the argument put forward by the likes of Larry Summers.)

This however is simply straight wrong:

Girls do better than boys at exams nowadays, and the Y chromosome is a real handicap for many who bear it.

No, they don\’t. Girls do better now at the tests which we use to measure progress through the education system. But we have changed those tests from being the more boy friendly \”exams\” (here\’s three hours, get on with the questions) to the more girl friendly continuous assessment. And we\’ve quite deliberately made this change: you only have to go back a few decades and read the educationalists insisting that exams are boy friendly and that the system should be changed to the current one in order not to disadvantage girls.

Whether this is the right or the wrong thing to have done isn\’t the point: it\’s what we have done.

7 comments on “Well, no, not quite

  1. I find the James Flynn explanation of observed differences in test scores to be quite persuasive, however Steven Jones is surely putting politics before science when he says that the link has been “disproved “. It may have been made less likely by Flynn’s discoveries but to say it has been disproven is just silly.

    It’s the sort of thing that makes the public trust scientists less.

  2. “So it’s irrelevant” – Only for individuals and small groups. But at the national level there enough of a difference to keep the equalities industry screaming “Racist! Sexist!”

  3. I think Tim thats fair enough as far as it goes but IQ tests try to get around cultural differences , but the picture is anyway far more complex than skin colour . Various African people are no more related each other than are some Africans and everyone else. Skin Colour is a highly variable human characteristic probably related to sexual evolution and has only a slight relation to the genetic relatedness of peoples.

    My view is this , when I look around I see population groups that clearly have differences in the aggregate .Island people tend to be large , some Africans tend to have dense muscle mass (and other do not ), some groups are fat some tend to thrive on different diets and so on.

    It is not impossible that among populations of black skinned people there are aggregate differences that are evolved but are not racial in fact it is almost certain that there are . There are aggregate differences in body mass between the English and French

    So every element is shifting

    Black does not equal ‘race’
    Population group does not equal race
    Evolved characteristic /population trend is not racial or it may well not be

    The answer is to calm down and accept that differing populations however defined will be different in the aggregate for a variety of reasons that one is better than another and that this can be called racial is only to make a problem where there is none.

  4. Got to disagree with this:

    “So while we may see this, on average, lower IQ of the whites, it doesn’t tell us anything interesting at all about any random individual or small group placed in front of us. They will still be spread on that 60-180 span.

    So it’s irrelevant.”

    It should be irrelevent, but when numerical disparities between different ethnic groups are cited as evidence of discrimination and policies are enacted to combat them then it is actually quite important.

  5. I chance to recall a book “The Bell Curve” published a while back investigating this question. It suggested there may be a difference in the average intelligence between races, and adduced evidence.

    This suggestion was greeted with the inevitable response, which showed scientists that attempting to investigate this question would, for most of them, be too dangerous, to their careers, livelihoods and personal health.

  6. It sounds as if you are looking for things that prove everyone is equal
    But there current test is – who is at the top right now.
    Not who might have been. Or even should be.

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