Nobody Is Defending Phrenology Today

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This popped into my Twitter timeline via Cory Doctorow:

This is wildly unfair. The clickbait was powerful enough to make me read the article—a review of Superior: The Return of Race Science—and it turns out that the authors:

  • Mention in one place that researchers can “correctly classify human skulls into black and white Americans with about 80% accuracy, using only two variables.” This is done in a section about whether race has biological roots or is purely a social construct.
  • Mention in another place—1,500 words later—that blacks and whites, on average, score about 10-15 points differently on IQ tests. This is done to refute a statement implying that the IQ gap might not really exist.¹

These two things aren’t related to each other in any way, and the authors don’t defend or apologize for phrenology or anything like it in any way whatsoever. The word “skull” is in their piece, but not in a way that has anything to do with intelligence.

This all reminds me of just how eager I am for neurobiologists to get better at figuring out the genetic basis of cognitive behavior. My read of the evidence is that the black-white IQ gap is almost certainly accounted for by environmental differences. But lots of people don’t believe that, and I suspect that even many liberals are privately unsure about it. The only way this will ever be put to rest is for geneticists to definitively locate the nexus of genes that account for the various cognitive abilities which, in aggregate, we call “intelligence.” Once that’s done, and no important racial differences are found, maybe we can finally get around to admitting the obvious and then doing something about it.

¹The gap in test scores is unquestionably real. The only question is what accounts for it.

 

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We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

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