The Black-White IQ Gap: Is It Closing? Will It Ever Go Away?

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Update: video, audio and PDFs available

Charles Murray emailed me a notice for this today, so for those in the D.C. area:

Start: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 10:00 AM
End: Tuesday, November 28, 2006 12:00 PM
Location: Wohlstetter Conference Center, Twelfth Floor, AEI 1150 Seventeenth Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036

For decades, the difference in the test scores of blacks and whites on the SAT, National Assessment of Educational Progress test, Armed Forces Qualification Test, and traditional IQ tests has been a vexed issue for American educational policy. Two of the leading scholars of this controversial topic, James R. Flynn of the University of Otago (New Zealand) and Charles Murray of AEI, will debate the causes of the difference, its implications, and recent trends. New studies of the subject by Professor Flynn and by Mr. Murray will be available for distribution at the session.

Registration

Panelists:
James R. Flynn, University of Otago
Charles Murray, AEI

23 Comments

  1. I would be interesting to see similar studies a la “The Bell Curves” done in a country like Brazil, where the phenotypes and genotypes for race do not have a strong correlation due to centuries of mixing, as recently reported. That could potentially shed some light on how much of this gap is cultural and how much is genetic.

  2. Interesting idea about Brazil …

  3. Steve– 
     
    Yeah it is. 
     
    That might get in under the radar as a first step, before Murray’s proposal in this country.

  4. Sure, if they convince the higher IQ blacks to make more babies and the lower IQ blacks to make none.

  5. Approximating the US black population IQ distributionas N(85,15) (yeah I know there are questions about the std, has anybody gt a firm figure?), how many generations at best would it take to raise he mean 15 points by selective breeding?

  6. one

  7. Three generations.

  8. at least a million

  9. Modern problems are often best solved by modern solutions. 
     
    The same high-tech economy that currently tends to put blacks at a disadvantage also has the ability to offer germline engineering services to remove this disadvantage from all their grandchildren (and maybe even “smart pills” capable of helping the current generation). All that is really needed is the political will; I don’t think there remains any serious doubt that a Manhattan Project-type effort could easily overcome the technical barriers within our lifetimes.

  10. The presentations plus q&a are accessible now via video (and audio) on the AEI website
    Quite fascinating.

  11. Also copies of the papers referenced in the talks.

  12. DoJ: Is there any reason to expect that the same improvements won’t be equally workable to everyone?  
     
    Suppose there’s some set of genes which we know how to force into an optimal pattern for intelligence, and that this boosts IQ by 30 points on average. There are about three possibilities: 
     
    a. Switching that set of genes to the optimal pattern accounts for just about all variation in intelligence. Engineered babies end up with the same IQ, modulo environmental factors. 
     
    b. Switching that set of genes has the same effect on everyone, but there’s lots of other variation in IQ. We just shift the bell curve 30 points to the right.  
     
    c. Switching that set of genes has a variable effect–some people benefit more than others. In this case, this might close the black/white IQ gap, widen it, or reverse it. There’s no way to know.

  13. albatross, this might be a trivial point resulting from my misreading of you, but in possibility b as long as genes contribute some of the variance, removing that factor should result in lower overall variance or a smaller standard deviation, although in addition we would expect the curve to be shifted to the right. I’m not talking specifically here about group differences although it could be relevant.

  14. It wouldn’t matter. the difference between an IQ of 115 and 145 is less severe than the difference between an IQ of 85 and 115. A person with an IQ of 115 can at least talk about and understand most things if they try, and will be able to value intelligence and not do really stupid things. They might not invent anything, but they will be functional in a modern society and can be entrusted to accomplish important tasks. An IQ of 85 is not well-adapted to modern life at all, and is usually relegated to very menial work.

  15. In TBC, H&M calculated the expected effects of an increase in average IQ of 3-points to 103: 
    * poverty rates fell 25% 
    * children living in poverty fell 20% 
    * high school drop-out rates fell 28%

  16. They might not invent anything, but they will be functional in a modern society and can be entrusted to accomplish important tasks. An IQ of 85 is not well-adapted to modern life at all, and is usually relegated to very menial work. 
     
    I suspect that if mean IQ rises, then the society will change so that higher IQ is needed to survive – leaving about the same proportion unable to cope. 
     
    This kind of effect has been suggested for usability of computer software: if no-one is capable of understanding how to operate a computer program, then very few people will buy it, and the vendor will need to improve it or go out of business. So the economic equilibrium is where the software is just on the verge of becoming impossible for use for most people.

  17. DoJ: Is there any reason to expect that the same improvements won’t be equally workable to everyone? 
     
    Many of the easiest genetic enhancements will involve taking stuff that’s known to work well and giving it to those who don’t have it. So I would expect downside variance to decrease, if everyone has roughly equal access to the technology
     
    I suspect that if mean IQ rises, then the society will change so that higher IQ is needed to survive – leaving about the same proportion unable to cope. 
     
    (I assume you mean “thrive” rather than “survive”. Modern technology has tended to make survival easier, not harder.) 
     
    While there will probably be an effect in the direction you suggest, I really doubt it will be large enough to leave blacks anywhere near as poorly off as they are now.

  18. SusanC said: 
    I suspect that if mean IQ rises, then the society will change so that higher IQ is needed to survive – leaving about the same proportion unable to cope. 
     
    I wholeheartedly agree with this!!! 
     
    I don’t think that the availability of treatments to boost the IQ of the lowest segments of society will accomplish much on their own. For starters most of this population would probably lack the financial means to invest in these treatments, but more particularly lack the incentive to do so.  
     
    I think it most likely that existing cognitive elites, and especially aspiring cognitive elites, would be the first to avail of these treatments. This could result in a bifurcated population of people with average IQ 85 and those with average IQ 200, and then where would we be??!!

  19. (I assume you mean “thrive” rather than “survive”. Modern technology has tended to make survival easier, not harder.) 
     
    Yes, I really meant “thrive”. But I can think of cases where there might be a life or death difference: 
     
    - Some countries don’t have universal healthcare. So if you can’t get the kind of job that enables you to get good medical insurance, and you get seriously sick, you’re more at risk of dying. This is probably true to some extent even in countries like the UK 
     
    - Death by violence is more likely among some groups than others – e.g. if the only job you can get is as a crack dealer (I seem to remmber a clinical neuroscientist telling me that probability of someone sustaining a serious head injury is correlated with IQ – this is relevant in estimating whether the patient has sustained brain damage or not) 
     
    - Death by suicide. Possibly sometimes influenced both by situational factors (e.g. unemployment) or by lack of appropriate medical treatment 
     
    - Death from drug abuse – drug usage also being influenced by situational factors

  20. Pconroy: ?For starters most of this population would probably lack the financial means to invest in these treatments, but more particularly lack the incentive to do so.? 
     
    Given the money the government has spent on ineffective education and the societal cost of low IQ crime, I suspect there would be ample government funds to pay for methods that work. The wealthy might be the early adapters but the cost should rapidly drop. (I like to think of the extremely wealthy as guinea pigs that try out stuff before it is available to the rest of us. Yep, the inevitable bugs in IQ enhancement and rejuvenation will be worked out on billionaires. E.g., Ray Kurzweil.) 
     
    As for incentive?even stupid people want to learn. They might not want to learn algebra but everyone has something they value that would be enhanced if they were brighter.

  21. Social engineering of that sort is probably never going to happen. But maybe some day some mega corporation will invest in bio-enhancing their employees (entailing contractual obligations, of course).  
     
    Or North Korea could invest in a generation of super hot Asian chicks for world domination purposes.

  22. we are so talking out of our asses it’s not even funny…

  23. actually… it is

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