Mismeasures on Evangelical Outpost

| 26 Comments | 5 TrackBacks

Over on Evangelical Outpost, Joe Carter just posted the following shocking passage that pretty clearly associates:

1. The statistically lower average qualifications of black students applying to law school, with 2. Natural “ability or aptitude.”

Since I’ve read Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man, this kind of thing really bugs me (and gives us the connection of this topic to The Panda’s Thumb).

Read it for yourself:

Carter is discussing an article on a new study by Richard H. Sander at UCLA that concludes that affirmative action for prospective law school students hurts black students instead of helping them. Carter begins:

An Affirmative Mismatch: Do Racial Preferences Limit Black Lawyers?

One of the most pernicious lies in America is the one we allow teachers, parents, and relatives to tell children: “When you grow up, you can be anything you want to be.”

Admittedly, it’s a well-intentioned fib, meant to encourage the young and prevent them from placing unnecessary limitations on themselves. The problem, though, is that it often works too well. Children, who lack experience of their own, tend to trust adults about what possibilities are open in the world. But ambition and hard work cannot always compensate for a lack of ability or aptitude. As much as I may dream of being a doctor or NFL linebacker, the fact that I am 5’10”, 170 lbs, and faint at the sight of blood, prevents me from pursuing those occupations. Recognizing these limitations, though, can help us discover our natural talents. By realizing that not every pathway is open to us, we are able to find our true “calling.”

Now, The actual study could be right or wrong, and frankly the detailed discussion of the merits of affirmative action is a topic for a different blog (if you would like to see my opinion, read this address by my own dear Dad at Oregon State University).

Sander’s study is careful to note that one of the explicit purposes of affirmative action is to balance out racial disadvantages due to sociopolitical history, and has nothing to do with correcting differences in innate ability.

Joe Carter, however, has pasted the “innate ability” gloss on top of this, and thereby more or less says that the statistically lower average qualifications of prospective black law students is equatable with the fact that Carter is not NFL linebacker material because he is 5’10”, 170 lbs. In short, it’s genetic.

Let me be clear: I’m quite sure that Carter had no ill-will or ill-intent here, and hates racism like any good Christian. But the unquestioned assumptions he is operating under in his post are pernicious and have a long, harmful history in multiple fields, including evolutionary biology. They thus need to be stomped on, like icky little cockroaches, whenever they sneak out of the shadows. I’m sure that when shown this little unconscious mistake, Carter will happily correct or retract. But the very fact that such unconscious biases can so easily slip into thinking might just lead Carter to reconsider the purpose of Affirmative Action. Is it really just for the benefit of historically disadvantaged minorities, or is it perhaps also for the benefit of those of us in the majority, to assist us in stomping on whatever cockroaches we still have hiding in our mental shadows?

5 TrackBacks

A disappointing entry from Nick over at The Pandas Thumb. He's upset that Joe Carter would suggest differences in black and white educational attainment might have something to do with ability as opposed to (from what I can gather) historical... Read More

In response to my most recent post on affirmative action, Nick Matzke of The Panda’s Thumb wrote: Sander’s study is careful to note that one of the explicit purposes of affirmative action is to balance out racial disadvantages due to... Read More

In response to my most recent post on affirmative action, Nick Matzke of The Panda’s Thumb wrote: Sander’s study is careful to note that one of the explicit purposes of affirmative action is to balance out racial disadvantages due to... Read More

In response to my most recent post on affirmative action, Nick Matzke of The Panda’s Thumb wrote: Sander’s study is careful to note that one of the explicit purposes of affirmative action is to balance out racial disadvantages due to... Read More

For the past couple of days the web team at Family Research Council has been having some fun at the expense of Max Blumenthal (see here and here). After he made the rookie mistake of hotlinking to an image on... Read More

26 Comments

Dont be so quick so rule out heritable group differences here, Nick. The case is, at the absolute least, equivocal.

In any event, getting any sort of information about the modern study of these things from Mismeasure is a bad, bad idea. Much of it boarders on outright creationist-style fraud.

Affirmative action works. What the UCLA study fails to analyze is the full range of affirmative action.

As we know, some affirmative action admissions go on to be president. That may be a more powerful argument against affirmative action at the moment, but it points out the difficulty – if 40% of affirmative action admits fail to become practicing lawyers, 60% do – and there is nothing to suggest than any of them would have done so in the alternative.

A batting average of .600 would be considered phenomenal.

While I agree with the fact that genetics can play a roll in not only physical but mental abilities I see no reason not to have these programs.

Lets go into some non-racial statistics about intelligence. Saddly I’m going into gender statistics.

Fact, there are more men that are above the IQ of 140 then women. Ok now that I have some people in a huff lets look at all the issues.

I am not saying men are smarter, basically because I haven’t provided all the information so let me do that now.

Fact, there are more more men with an IQ under 80 then women.

Women generally have a tighter group when looking at their statistics. This goes for mental and physical traits. Men are just all over the place.

So while there are not as many women with very high intellects compared to men there are less stupid women then men. Do we exclude women from anything because of this? No. The smartest women I would say are as smart as the smartest men.

The affirmative action provides those that have been disadvantaged by society a chance. There is no shortage of great black lawers and judges and having done work for the Massachussetts Board of Bar I can tell you there are a TONNE of WASP lawers that are not so bright but a bit of a waste in all respects. Not talking about their profession either.

Here in Australia there is a big prejudice about the Aborigenes. I don’t doubt some of what western society deems as bad behaivor is genetic but I wouldn’t stop individuals from reaching beyond their genetics. While Joe is only 5’10’ 170 pounds and thinks he can’t be a linebacker I’d suggest its just harder for him to become one but with determination he could if he wanted to invest the time and effort.

I’m disgusted with labels that Joe is implying. I’ve always said that I rather work with someone that is passionate about what they are doing and is average at it then someone that is naturally gifted but does not give a $#!T. Like wise I’d rather see a average intelligence kid that desperately wants to be a lawer then a bright kid that is doing it for the money.

GFA,

Tie group heritable differences to the rankings of prospective law school students, toss in some references documenting it, and you’ll have something approaching an argument.

And did I say anything about the modern study of racial differences? Or a generic endorsement of every factoid in Gould’s book? I don’t think so. But, for the record, I am very skeptical of the whole idea of generic intelligence tests. I’ve seen some pretty dumb stuff come out of some pretty high-IQ people. And, I think that what intelligence differences may exist in modern populations are explained to the first approximation by quality of diet, and to the second approximation by other socio-economic factors, and whatever genetic differences may remain are trivial. Genetics doesn’t account for any observed social inequalities between groups.

Wayne, you are confusing high IQ with “high intellect”.

“But, for the record, I am very skeptical of the whole idea of generic intelligence tests. I’ve seen some pretty dumb stuff come out of some pretty high-IQ people. And, I think that what intelligence differences may exist in modern populations are explained to the first approximation by quality of diet, and to the second approximation by other socio-economic factors”

For the record, Nick, this isn’t “skepticism” it’s ignorance. Skepticism isn’t something you get to pull out of the ether and put on your head like a crown, it’s an arduous process of self-critical evidence examination. Since I can spot about 4 clear errors in your last 3 short sentences, I’m going to guess you haven’t opted for this process, instead choosing the typical anti-skeptic route of bloviating about what you “think” instead of picking up a text-book or bothering to get your hands dirty.

I would hope Panda’s Thumb would have more rules about keeping its posters “on topic” or at least “on science”, instead of being allowed to write stupid screeds about “The Myth of Global Warming” or “The Lie of Intelligence Testing”.

Well, there’s intelligence and then there’s intelligence. And then, according to Robert Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence, there are also three facets of intelligence: Analytic, Creative, and Practical. While I make no claims to expertise in the field of psychology, this seems to mesh up well with my personal experiences with people. I knew a guy who got a perfect score on the SATs, would walk an extra 10 blocks (literally) to save five cents (literally) on a taco, and who, when I helped him move out of his apartment, had over $9,000 in uncashed paychecks lying around, some more than a year old. And this wasn’t an isolated incident.

Wicked smart? Definitely.

Wicked dumb? Absolutely.

Analytically smart, practically stupid. It’s been my experience (as reflected in the thoughts and actions of the people I’ve met) that IQ tests are heavy on the Analytic facet of intelligence, but light (or absent) on the Creative and the Practical ones.

But I don’t have a shred of presentable data to back this up, so make of it what you will.

a few points:

a) ability/aptitude differences for between-group differences and any given individual can have a genetic source or it can have an environmental source. But In-population (as opposed to between population differences)differences in ability have been shown to a have significant genetic component.

b) achievement certainly is constrained by ability (so in-population differences in achievement *are* limited by genetic factors).

c) as far as I know affirmitive action [e.g. academic preferences] policies *do* work (i.e. are helpful to African-Americans), but I am not aware that in doing so they contradict either ‘a’ or ‘b’.

So I disagree with Joe Carter in his use of ‘a’ and ‘b’ to contradict ‘c’. But note his use of ‘a’ and ‘b’ did *not* necessarily imply that African-Americans were less intelligent for genetic reasons, as Nick Matzke implied by this post. Now Joe may have made that less clear with his line-backer analogy, but it was uncharitable to suggest that it necessarily implied group differences were genetic.

Really this post had no point, it is mistaken, it is implicitly hostile to psychology (made more clear by Nick’s comments to GFA), and it has no clear relevance to the primary subject matter of Panda’s Thumb.

Does one of you experts (my grounding in psychometrics is now nearly 40 years old) want to comment on the implications of the fact that as environment tends toward being maximally conducive to the full expression and development of genetically influenced traits, within-group estimates of heritability must tend to 1.0? That is, as one reduces the variance attributable to environment (by suitably tailoring environments to each individual, as for example in the ideal case, completely individualizing instruction in schools), the proportion of the total variance that is attributed to genetic heritance must increase.

RBH

Not to mention the fact that fitness traits have a heritance of nearly 0.0 because of their lack of genetic diversity. Heritance measures the potential to respond to selection. It is not suitable for much of anything else.

Some other thoughts:

There is an issue in top colleges that African Americans are being severely out competed by African or Carribean immigrants for “black” affirmative action “spots.” (I don’t know a better way to say this.) Given that African Americans as a population have probably 1/5-1/4 European ancestory, should we consider their white blood to be the difference maker?

Affirmative Action is there to even out the playing field a little. Considering that the ancestors of the Aborigenes of Australia, African Americans, and Native Americans were dispossessed and forced to adapt-or-die to Western culture, to forget the ancient teachings of their ancestors in order to succeed, isn’t it only fair to give them a small advantage? Family and cultural stability is the advantage for the rest of us, at least inso far as our ancestors have been given more opportunities on average than were given to slaves and conquered peoples whose land and way of life was ripped away from them. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, one cannot reach self-actualization unless one already has the foundations of safety, love, and esteem. The need for self-actualization is “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” Therein lies the disadvantage of the dispossessed.

test - problems posting

After a dozen bounce-backs, I got fed up trying to post.

Nick: Since I posted a lengthy response on my own blog, I won’t waste your comments space by repeating it here. I would, however, like to address a few other points.

First, let me say that I disagree with those who criticize your post as not being “on topic” or “on science.” While I think you have misunderstood my post, the idea that genetic traits may have an impact on intelligence and ability is a worthy topic of discussion. Personally, I agree with Richard Dawkins that genetic factors are rather trivial. But from the perspective of evolutionary psychology it is certainly an issue that could be considered “on science.”

Second, while I agree that such “unquestioned assumptions” have crept into such fields as evolutionary psychology, I don’t think they can be easily dismissed simply because we find them to be unconscionable. Your argument is rooted in what Leon Kass calls the “wisdom of repugnance.” While I would agree that it is a valid starting point, I’m not sure many of your more empirically minded readers will find it to be sufficient response.

Ed: if 40% of affirmative action admits fail to become practicing lawyers, 60% do …

I’m afraid you’ve misread that statistic. It’s not that 60% of all affirmative action applicants become lawyers, but that 60% of all black law students become lawyers. 86% of them would have been admitted even if there were no affirmative action programs.

Wayne: I’m disgusted with labels that Joe is implying. I’ve always said that I rather work with someone that is passionate about what they are doing and is average at it then someone that is naturally gifted but does not give a $#!T. Like wise I’d rather see a average intelligence kid that desperately wants to be a lawer then a bright kid that is doing it for the money.

While I can appreciate your sentiment, I think that if I were on trial for a crime that I didn’t commit I would prefer to have a naturally gifted and competent lawyer who “does not give a $#!T”” then I would one that is passionate but not quite as qualified.

Nick,

I read your post from the trackback to the original EO post. I have to say that I think you made a mistake that stemmed from your leaving out a major point in the qoute you linked. Not only did Joe say that his being 5’10” and 170 lbs made him ill-equipped to be an NFL linebacker, he also said that his tendency to faint at the sight of blood made him ill-equipped to be a doctor. Fainting at the sight of blood is not genetic. Now, while using an NFL analogy may have made some tempers flare since it brings back memories of the Rush Limbaugh or Jimmy the Greek affiars, Joe clearly does not link the qualifications of Black students to genetic apptitude. I think his whole attempt was to illustrate that, for a variety of reasons, certain people are ill-equipped for certain professions.

In fact, he goes on to state: “An even more pertinent question for affirmative action supporters is why they would support a program that reduces the number of black students who will become lawyers? According to his research, Sander concludes that by eliminating preferences the number of black lawyers would actually increase. Almost 86% of blacks currently enrolled in law schools would have already been admitted to some law school even under race-blind policies.”

I read with a pretty critical eye, especially when it comes to race issues, and I didn’t see how Joe’s article could in any way be interpreted as racist or leaning towards racial prejudice.

Just my thoughts.

Ed

Consider:

There is about 1.4% genetic difference between man and chimp There is substantial variation between people on all sorts of “gross” characteristics: eye color, skin color, propensity to cardiovascular disease, etc.

Analyze:

Very small genetic differences can have substantial impact “Subtle” phenotypes like “intelligence” are likely to have significant genetic variation as well

Conclusion:

It would be extremely suprising to me if there AREN’T differences between races on “intelligence”

I put intelligence in quotes because there are all sorts of things that can be called intelligence, as others have noted, and IQ tests are a poor proxy for anything other than previous experience in taking IQ-type tests. Take a simple skill that might be considered a building block of intelligence though, such as ability to calculate quickly, process language, remember lists, and so on. There is certainly a training component to each, but there is also clearly “natural ability”, however this may be influenced by interest, nutrition, environment, and other factors. Some people are born with it and some aren’t. Now, this is complicated by no doubt being polygenic, but there is certainly variation in populations, and it is highly likely that there are differences between populations.

This is where Gould was wrong: in his eagerness to proselytize the equality of races, he minimized the true differences between races instead of acknowledging the likelihood of differences and discussing

1) The lack of evidence for any particular population being better than another after correcting for all confounding variables 2) The unlikelihood that if intelligence was separated into component properties, any particular race would be superior on ALL of the components

That is the argument for diversity: not that races are equally good at everything, but that different races are likely to be better at different things.

Joe, thanks for the reply and taking the post the way it was meant. Your clarifying post raises some new issues on which I would disagree, but they are probably topics for another blog.

At this point, I’m now more concerned about the assumptions being made by some in pro-evolution camp…

Steven Pinker’s discussion of heritability of intelligence, in “The Blank Slate,” is an excellent summary of current work in the field and would counter some of the misapprehensions expressed in the comments.

The heritability of IQ (as measured by standard tests) is very high and increases through life, while the influence of family characteristics fades. “Environment” includes things such as maternal health and fetal nutrition, as well as social circumstances broader than the family. Individual IQ is strongly correlated with positive and negative life outcomes, much more so than SES.

The world is the way it is, not the way we would like it.

Mr. Ed Wrote:

Not only did Joe say that his being 5’10” and 170 lbs made him ill-equipped to be an NFL linebacker, he also said that his tendency to faint at the sight of blood made him ill-equipped to be a doctor.  Fainting at the sight of blood is not genetic.

Being 5’10” and 170 lbs is not genetic either. Height and weight are of course influenced by genetics, but then again so is one’s emotional reaction to blood.

I’m not trying to start an argument here, just trying to dispell the oft made mistake that traits can be divided into those which are genetic and those which aren’t.

Linda writes

The world is the way it is, not the way we would like it.

Indeed. If the world was the way I liked it, we would call the “IQ test” the “The Test that Measures Something that Is Difficult and Inappropriate to Label with a Single Term Such as ‘Intelligence’”.

And yet certain types of scientists continue to plow forward and call it “The IQ Test”. Probably because it helps to sell books. Of course, I’m not an expert on human behavior so I’m probably just imagining that greed and a desire for fame are motivating factors for humans. Maybe one of those brain dissectors should study that.

Steve wrote:

I’m not trying to start an argument here, just trying to dispell the oft made mistake that traits can be divided into those which are genetic and those which aren’t.

Any particular individual’s phenotype is obviously the consequence of gene-environment interaction.

Variance in any particular trait, though, can be due to either genes, environment, or some combination of the two.

DSM Wrote:

IQ tests are a poor proxy for anything other than previous experience in taking IQ-type tests.

I think this is a bit misleading. Most IQ test people take are not great for assessment but actual professionally administered and, more importantly, evaluated IQ tests are a great indication of intelligence. We’ve identified both where my son is strong and what he needs to work at. The psychologist doesn’t just use the raw answers my son gave to work out his scores. So complain all you want about self administered IQ tests but let us make the distinction that a professional administering one is a much better. This is especially true of young children that have not geared/studied for these tests.

Back to the topic. I don’t think that looking at differences in intelligence between those of different ethnic backgrounds is a bad thing. What is bad is saying someone of a certian ethnic background should not be allowed to do X. Just like they don’t stop women from getting into Mensa because there are less of them in the top 2% they shouldn’t stop anyone of a certian ethnic background from doing something that most of their race would have a more difficult time doing. Go ahead and test. If you know your weaknesses you can work more effectively agianst them.

“I put intelligence in quotes because there are all sorts of things that can be called intelligence, as others have noted, and IQ tests are a poor proxy for anything other than previous experience in taking IQ-type tests.”

I come down on the side that holds that IQ scores are more meaningful that perhaps our egalitarian sentiments would like them to be.

The tests are not perfect predictors or testers, but that’s not the same as stating they tell us nothing. No, they do tell us something.

It’s like arguing that bench pressing tells us nothing about a person except “previous experience in bench pressing tests.” No, if someone can bench press 400 pounds on Monday, that tells us something about his relative strength. Even though if you tested his strengh a year earlier or a year later or even a week later (say when he didn’t get as much sleep or drank less coffee that morning), the exact results might not be the same.

While I am sure there are all different kinds of intelligences, IQ tests, like the SAT, are heavily weighted towards math & verbal type intelligences (as opposed to such things as musical intelligences, interpersonal intelligence, improvisational decision making, street smarts – something that many high IQ’d folks greatly lack). And Math & Verbal IQ are vitally important in terms of many of the employment positions in this society that allocate a great deal of wealth. Verbal Intelligence in particular is strongly related to fitness to be a lawyer, for example.

There may be plenty of professional athletes with IQs well below 100, but that doesn’t mean that if you have an IQ well below 100, there are just plenty of 6-figure jobs out there; there aren’t.

There are other reasons for “affirmative action” that are especially applicable to the professions. Our medical school, like all others I know of, goes out of its way to identify qualified minority applicants, even though there is enough demand to fill the class with those at the absolute top of the IQ scale. Why? Because, notwithstanding that any profession composed only of highest-IQ people would be disastrous, we train students for the profession, and the professions exist to serve society as a whole.

Minority physicians are much more likely to practice in primarily minority areas, and the public health of minorities is an essential societal goal. Given Medicine’s shameful past discrimination (think the Tuskegee experiments), there is an inherent distrust of Medicine in minority communities which is partially alleviated by the presence of minorities in the profession. This adds up to a compelling case for increasing the number of minority physicians, in my view. Even if the goals aren’t met completely, the partial successes are enough to justify the attempt.

And finally, IQ tests, even when well administered, are imperfect measures at best. Remember that Feynman’s IQ was only 128, as measured (I suspect he was bored). He delighted in turning down MENSA’s invitation to join since he was unqualified.

Why use heritability as a measure of the degree to which you can’t change a trait ? As I understand it, heritability have a number of problem (like the fact that an trait that traits which are partialy genetic and for which everybody have the genes have an heritability of 0). The norms of reaction of Lewontin would be better suited for measuring the capability to change (that’s precisely what they are for: degree of phenotypical change in function of environmental change). Are there some studies that evaluates the norm of reaction of IQ ?

Here is a cool paper on why linking heritability of IQ and IQ difference between Black and Whites with a underlying genetic difference is a scientific guess, at best.

http://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/[…]ability.html

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on December 21, 2004 3:39 AM.

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