Sunday, May 19, 2013

Mentioning the unmentionable again

In my academic career as a psychometrician, I paid some attention to the sociology of knowledge, and, indeed to the psychology of knowledge.

The field is actually a respectable one among Leftists -- dating particularly from Karl Marx's claim that your class position influences how you think.

Unlike Marx and the Leftists, however, I do not extrapolate small facts into vast generalizations.  Because one can descry influences on how people think, I don't jump to the conclusion that there is no such thing as truth.  I think the truth is still knowable even to those who wish that it were not so.

But the thing that fascinates me is the use of censorship, formal and informal.  Why do people wish to censor certain ideas?  Censored ideas are obviously seen as dangerous but WHY are they seen as dangerous?  It cannot be because they are silly.  There are many silly ideas that are not censored.  Nobody tries to censor the widespread claim that George Bush blew up the Twin Towers, for instance.  Silly ideas are allowed to run their course.  They are not censored.

So it is clearly threatening ideas that are censored.  But why are they threatening?  The answer surely is that the censored thought is reality-based.  So religious people who wish to censor expressions of sexual license, reveal by their censorship attempts that there is a real tendency towards sexual licence out there in the population -- a tendency which they do not wish to overwhelm  their own families.  And homosexuals who brand all criticism of homosexuality as "homophobia" reveal that there is a strong tendency out there in the population to find homosexuality at least distasteful if not perverted and immoral.

So ever since I wrote an academic article on the subject in 1972, it has always seemed to me that the idea of IQ is very threatening to those who fulminate against it.  And it is clear why it is threatening:  Because it refers to a fact that has great potential to upset people who are less intellectually able. 

But that is the point.  If it were a fantasy as silly as the claim about George Bush and the Twin Towers, nobody would be disturbed by it.  The fact that the idea of IQ is founded in over a century of careful academic research is the problem.  It is arguably the most solid finding ever to come out of psychological research that problem solving ability is highly general across different classes of problem.  And we call that general problem solving ability 'g' or IQ.

But the fact that there really is such a thing as IQ out there in the general population only intensifies the problem.  The findings about IQ are entirely disruptive to the Leftist wish to declare all men equal.  The fury and sweeping denunciations aimed at  people like Jason Richwine are so powerful precisely because the concept of IQ is so accurate.  Although many have tried, the concept of IQ cannot be dismissed academically.  So all that is left is denunciation and persecution of those who proclaim the facts of the matter. 

The fact that talk about IQ is so heavily penalized and forbidden is surely one of the most powerful demonstrations there are of how reality-based IQ findings are.  Putting it more generally, the more "forbidden" a statement is, the more likely it is to be true.

So it is mildly amusing how silly the attacks on IQ are -- and the demonstration that blacks on average have markedly lower IQs does of course arouse great steaming eruptions of silliness.  The quite standard response of Leftists is a variation of their ultimate fallback when forced into a corner by the facts.  They resort to some variation on the quite incoherent assertion that "there is no such thing as right and wrong".  In the case of IQ they deny that either IQ or race exists.

I have been reading a fair bit of the Leftist commentaries on the Richwine affair  -- from black writers like Ta Nehisi Coates to the cautious David Weigel.  And they regularly  refer to the concept of IQ as "discredited".  Who discredited it and how they do not say.  They don't want to go there. I think they know that they would be in very deep if they tried.  The various academic assaults on the concept have been easily rebutted  -- e.g. here.

Ta Nehisi Coates is however more empirical than most.  He takes a rather ad hominem approach.  Like the black conservative Tom Sowell, he shows how ideas of racial intelligence have been wrong in the past and arrives at the non sequitur that current ideas of that ilk are also therefore wrong.  It's rather like saying that Hitler liked dogs so love of dogs these days is Fascist.  Ultimately you have to judge the truth of a proposition on the  facts, not on who believes it now or who believed something similar in the past.

And absolutely ALL Leftists deny that such a thing as race exists.  As far as I can tell, ALL Americans can see that it does but when did reality hold up Leftists?  The argument for race non-existence is an old philosophical fallacy that can be applied to almost everything.  I can equally argue, for instance, that dogs do not exist  because some are large, some are small, some have short coats some have long coats, some are white some are black etc.

So some people regarded as American blacks look a lot like whites and some do not.  So the Leftist argument (e.g. by Coates) is that there is therefore no such thing as blacks. Such an asinine argument hardly deserves a reply but Razib Khan (a brown man) has answered it at length anyway  -- pointing out that all taxonomy in the natural world concerns central tendency rather than rigid or simple demarcation lines.  My comment from some years back on the matter is here.

Even many conservatives find the idea of low average IQ among blacks distasteful but, as the old Scots proverb has it:  "Facts are chiels that winna ding" (Facts are guys that you can't knock down).

FOOTNOTE:  It is often pretended that what IQ tests measure is either a mystery or trivial.  So we sometimes hear even from people who should know better the statement:  "IQ is only what IQ tests measure".  It is of course trivially true that IQ tests measure IQ but what IQ tests measure is neither obscure nor trivial.  They measure general problem-solving ability, which is why psychometricians refer to IQ as 'g'.  And that there is such a thing as general problem-solving ability is a momentous discovery with many implications -- which is why high IQ goes with so many desiderata:  from educational success to higher income to better health and longer life. 

And pointing out that there are exceptions to that rule is merely sophomoric.  In the life sciences all rules that I can think of have exceptions.  As any gambler can tell you, however, even small departures from randomness can be invaluable. A correlation does not have to be perfect to be useful.

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