Nobody Is Defending Phrenology Today

Facts matter: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter. Support our nonprofit reporting. Subscribe to our print magazine.

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.

 

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate