McWhorter casually dismisses the less-intelligence theory and its blogger-advocate Steve Sailer, with whom I tangled yesterday. Why? Because McWhorter is confident that his alternative theory, based on language, can explain racial gaps in test scores. In his commentary on the New Haven case, McWhorter lays out the theory: Working-class blacks and whites communicate orally rather than in writing, and they're unfamiliar with the art of answering direct questions. I'm sure there's truth in this theory. But McWhorter offers no quantitative evidence for it. Nor does it address some of the most difficult evidence presented by proponents of the genetic theory: whites outscoring blacks even when the class factor skews the other way. In his rebuttal to my original article on the NAEP data, for instance, Sailer notes:Here's the 2007 8th grade Reading scores broken down by race and income. White kids whose parents are so poor that they are eligible for the National School Lunch Program outscore affluent black kids by four points and affluent Hispanic kids by one point. The gap between poor whites and poor blacks is 19 points, and the gap among not poor whites and not poor blacks is 21 points. That's what you normally getâ€”sizable racial gaps anyway you slice it.Is Sailer a nice guy? No. Does he display an unhealthy interest in categorizing people by race or ethnicity? Yes. But the problem here isn't Sailer, James Watson, Charles Murray, or anybody else you feel like dismissing as a racist. [Whew! I dodged a bullet there. For a moment I thought he was going to lump me in with not only Charles Murray and James D. Watson, but also with Francis Crick, Arthur Jensen, William D. Hamilton, Ronald A. Fisher, Francis Galton, and Charles Darwin. Please don't throw me in that briar patch!] The problem is the evidence these people quote. Condemnation won't make it go away.
Don't get me wrong. Genetic and environmental explanations aren't mutually exclusive. In the case of IQ, everybody accepts environmental factors, and there's plenty of evidence and argument against the hereditarian view. But that's just one battle in a larger war. Beyond the march of test scores, there's the onslaught of genetic research. We've already identified genes that correlate with traits and vary in prevalence between ethnic groups. Are you confident that intelligence will turn out to be exempt from this list? Confident enough to leave no backup plan, no understanding of equality that can withstand a partial role for heredity? Confident enough to keep tallying and reporting test scores by race? And if intelligence turns out not to vary genetically between groups, do you imagine that we'll get just as lucky with every other significant mental trait?
If you want to know why I keep writing about this subject, Mr. McWhorter, there's your answer. No, I don't care about the merit badge. I'm staring over your shoulder at an oncoming train. It starts with genomic differentiation of populations around the world, and that's just the locomotive. If you turn around and look, you'll see that the first few cars are already in view: genes that affect mental traits, genes that affect abilities, and variations between populations in the prevalence of these genes. No genetically distinguishable population will be spared. We're sitting in the path of this train, tied to the tracks by a literalist conception of equality that can't accept hereditary differences between group averages. I suggest we free ourselves.
Under these circumstances, do I think gaps between average white and black test scores should "shed less than positive light on black people"? No, I don't. Each of us should be judged by his own performance, not by a stereotype. Genetic variation between averages doesn't alter that moral truth. Nor does it give anyone an excuse.
Okay, but that's not how Barack Obama thinks, nor is it how the federal government think. For decades, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has enforced the Four-Fifths Rule:
"A selection rate for any race, sex, or ethnic group which is less than four-fifths (4/5) (or eighty percent) of the rate for the group with the highest rate will generally be regarded by the Federal enforcement agencies as evidence of adverse impact, while a greater than four-fifths rate will generally not be regarded by Federal enforcement agencies as evidence of adverse impact.
In other words, if 50 percent of whites pass the test, 40 percent or more of each minority group must pass the test, or the burden of proof is on the employer to vindicate the selection process. This can be so expensive and uncertain that many employers just impose hiring and promotion quotas upon themselves.The four-fifths rule is as the heart of the Ricci fireman's case.
Really, Mr. Saletan should take up his argument with Mr. Obama.