Nobody Is Defending Phrenology Today

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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Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

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