Megan McArdle: You Should Be Allowed To Ask If It's OK To Ask If Race Influences IQ, But Not To Actually Ask It
December 17, 2018, 05:58 PM
Print Friendly and PDF

From the Washington Post:

Who should decide what topics are off-limits?
By Megan McArdle, Columnist

December 15

Noah Carl, a young British social scientist, stands accused of peddling “racist pseudoscience.” And as I discovered, even asking whether the accusation is true invites the same sort of unwelcome attention.

…Carl’s published papers address sensitive subjects such as Islamist terrorism and immigration. More provocatively still, he has argued in favor of researching race and IQ. But since the open letter didn’t cite specifics, defenders of Carl’s academic freedom could only guess at what had provoked it. …

Investigating links between race, IQ and genes has long been anathema; Carl’s case suggests that it is now anathema even to ask whether those investigations should be forbidden. And I seemed to be proving that it is anathema to ask whether it should be anathema to ask …

So Noah Carl should be allowed to ask if it’s okay to ask, so long as he never, God forbid, asks …

All somewhat ironic, considering that I already leaned toward believing that research into race and IQ should be off-limits. …

There’s a history, I said, of scientists finding whatever they expect, from scientists insisting that humans had 48 chromosomes, even as their experiments kept showing 46, to the eugenics that fueled the Holocaust. One of Jussim’s own papers shows that left-leaning social psychologists have long been inadvertently biasing their research toward answers the left finds congenial.

Given flawed scientists and imperfect scientific methods, and given the fraught history of Western racism, isn’t the likelihood of getting it wrong just too high?

Because the bulk of 2018 scientists are so biased toward the right? Huh? Aren’t all the incentives in 2018 in favor of scientists disproving the race – IQ connection? For example, look how immensely popular S.J. Gould became in 1981 not for disproving such theories, but merely for snarking about old time scientists who held them.

And the potential cost of those particular errors simply too catastrophic to risk? All societies place some questions out of bounds because they’re too toxic; we don’t debate whether child molestation or spousal murder is acceptable. …

… I did emerge with two prior beliefs basically confirmed: first, that research into race and IQ should stay off limits, but, second, that those limits are better established by debate than denunciation.

Okay, but should arguments based on the assumption that there cannot be empirical links between race and IQ also be ruled out of bounds? Should Mayor De Blasio’s argument that the Stuyvesant HS entrance exam must be biased because a couple of orders of magnitude more Asians than blacks pass it also be banned on the grounds that we aren’t allowed to speculate about such questions?

How would that work, exactly?

[Comment at]