catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Does it matter if there are genetic racial differences?

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Belief that one race is better than another is distinctly minority opinion these days. The most recent poll I can find (2001) had 12% disagreeing with the proposition that ‘all races are equal’. Yet as an op-ed in The Age warns today (and the same piece was in the SMH a week or two ago) racial science is coming back:

Racial science has discovered the art, and the power, of flattery. Last year, three scholars published a paper, Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, in which they argued that Ashkenazi Jews were considerably more intelligent than other Europeans because their history of moneylending and other financial occupations favoured genes associated with cleverness. The principle at stake was essentially the same as the one underlying The Bell Curve, a provocative tome in which Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein suggested that black people might be innately less intelligent than white people, that race is biologically real and that some races are intellectually superior to others.

The ABC is also worried about this, running a series that repeatedly reminds us that despite different skin colour, hair etc we really are the same underneath.

But does racial science have the dangerous implications people think it does? It seems pretty clear that even if some systematic variances other than appearance were found the differences within groups would still be much greater -and internal variance is so obvious that the general population will not need scientists to convice them of it. Nor would genetic variance undermine the again well-established fact that environment and individual attitudes etc have big effects on outcomes, and so it would not justify a policy of benign neglect of groups that are underperforming.

Racism does not need assumptions of genetic difference. Keith Windschuttle’s book on the White Australia Policy may have understated the role of distinctly racial assumptions, but he is right that people have long made non-genetic arguments based on cultural difference or a desire to avoid labour market competition. The earlier discrediting of racial science probably played only a minor role in the long-term decline of racism, with a negative reaction to the horrors of racial genocide and a positive reaction to inter-ethnic social relations probably the more important causes.

I suspect racial differences are an area of science we may be better-off not researching any further. If we stop now science will always confirm the least politically troublesome result. But if as seems likely curiosity keeps scientists going and they do find more differences than previously recognised I don’t believe curiosity will kill the anti-racist cat.


Written by Admin

January 30, 2006 at 6:33 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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