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Posted: 15 March 2007 01:40 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 31 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

I must disagree strongly that IQ is merely performance on an IQ test. IQ, and general mental ability, predicts many things including job performance, grades at university, income, etc. The fact that lots of other things contribute to these things as well (eg the personality variable conscientiousness) doesn’t negate the fact that IQ makes a unique contribution to prediction. It is no mistake that people in mentally demanding occupations have higher IQs, on average, than people in mentally nondemanding roles.

Though one can find studies to support almost any point of view on this one, I believe the evidence best supports the argument that IQ (by which most people probably mean the Stanford-Binet test score) explains at best 25-30% of the variance in academic performance, and much less in terms of other measures of real-world validity. And I think the degree to which this confounds with socioeconomic status, early-childhood education and experiences, etc make even this level of validity questionable. In any case, the improtant thing is whether it measures something useful, and whether whatever it measures corresponds to what most of us mean by “intelligence.” I am far from convinced of this. Additionally, in the context of race, there is nothing like a scientific consensus regarding the tests to use, the ways to interpret the results, and the real-world significance of the results, so if we’re talking about difference between putative races, IQ is a particularly fuzzy variable to invoke. I’m not philosophically opposed to the notion that differences might exist, but in reality I think it is far from demonstrated convincingly that they do

Okay, I still disagree (IQ is almost as old as psychology itself, the Stanford-Binet is no longer the best instrument, prediciting 20-30% of variance is not bad, in fact it is quite good in terms of typical predictor variables, if going to school, which occupies most Western children for at least 12 years is not part of the real world, I don’t know what is, etc). As for the ‘confounding’ part - there are statistical techniques that can specifically control for pre-existing differences between groups in terms of socioeconomic status, parent’s education, in fact any variable you can quantify in some way. The fact that, for example, hypertension, obesity and sedentary lifestyle all happen to be predictors of heart disease, and all happen to be correlated with each other, does not preclude that each of them is a separate and unique predictor of heart disease.

But let me put it less controversially - there are definite physiological differences between races (Asians are shorter than white people). This doesn’t say anything about any particular Asian vs any particular white, and obviously there are large individual differences within each ‘race’ as well. If such statistically robust differences can be found on one dimension, that at least opens the door for the possibility along other dimensions.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

Negating the idea of race means you also have to let go of the idea that anyone could be racist. I suppose you could say people make prejudiced decisions based on what they PERCEIVE to be different races, but what is causing this perception if not race?

I’m certainly not accusing you of racism, nor do I think it is inherently racist to ask the question about racial differences, or to answer it honestly scientifically. But, I do think when most people say “race,” they are referring to perceived differences which correlate poorly with actual genetic differences. As Occam pointed out, skin color (and perhaps a few other characteristics such as eye shape, hair texture, etc) is what most people use to assign race to others, and I doubt these correlate with any meaningful physical or behavioral differences between people based on genetic lineage. I also think that what genetic differences do exist or of questionable significance in terms of biology, medicine, behavior, or any practical applications, so I’m not sure the value of considering them outweighs the potential harm in terms of reinforcing traditional (and inaccurate) notions of race and racial differences.[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

If genetic differences did exist, I don’t see how you could deny the practical effect. If a particular heart medication worked better for black people than similar medications targeting the same problem,  the sensible thing to do is assign that medication first. Like everything in the fuzzy world of pharmacology, there is specific person-medication interaction, and medicines need to be trialled on a particular patient to find what works best for that patient. Why not start with a medication that is known to work better on blacks in general, than start randomly?

The fact that there may be differences between various races (or ethnic communities) and between genders (and sexual orientations) means that I don’t support the idea of affirmative action. In fact, I find the implicit assumptions of affirmative action a little disturbing (eg that a person’s worth IS their economic worth). I believe it is important for role models to be present in a number of critical occupations (especially education), but I find it perverse that something like the rising number of women CEOs is something to be celebrated. The fact that women, as a group, are not as relentlessly greedy and ruthless as men should count as a positive, not as a failing.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]Well, this is a largely political issue separate from genetic notions of race. Here, clearly appearance is the deciding factor upoin which most discrimination is based. Whether or not affirmative action is an appropriate way to address historical discrimination is another topic. But if you argue for or against any specific approach to promoting economic or social equity based on the idea of race, I think you’re starting the debate with a lot of false assumptions of categories not supported by science.

Isn’t this part of the problem? If race isn’t a real thing, no-one could be racist. If there is no such thing as race, how could anyone assign social or economic indicators to various ‘races’?

Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s say an article was published that said there was a reliable correlation between level of skin pigmentation at birth (which excludes many environmental changes to skin colour) and IQ. Let’s say the article concludes that the darker your skin colour, the lower your IQ*. The research was carried out on people across various age groups in the United States, using standard IQ tests, and controlling for other variables.

Can you imagine the outrage, even if the word ‘race’ is not mentioned once in the article? Hell, even ‘white’ or ‘black’ doesn’t have to be mentioned.

*A correlation, unless it is +1 or -1, does not imply a perfect linear relationship. It just takes group averages. So whilst it is possible that in this particular imagined study there is a correlation, IQ can’t be perfectly predicted from skin colour, but there is still a reliable association.

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Posted: 15 March 2007 05:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 32 ]
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If genetic differences did exist, I don’t see how you could deny the practical effect. If a particular heart medication worked better for black people than similar medications targeting the same problem, the sensible thing to do is assign that medication first. Like everything in the fuzzy world of pharmacology, there is specific person-medication interaction, and medicines need to be trialled on a particular patient to find what works best for that patient. Why not start with a medication that is known to work better on blacks in general, than start randomly?

There’s no question genetic differences between individuals exist, and that these are greater, and probably more important than differences between racial groups, however you define them. These obviously are important for pharmacology, and there is research going on to improve our understanding, but we’re a long way from being able to tailor medications to an individual’s genome, unfortunately. Still this is an important area of research.

There are also differences between groups of people associated, roughly, with the continent their ancestors came from. As you point out, skin color is an obvious one. The important question is do the specific differerences have an effect on such important variables as response to medications?They may, but I don’t think it’s a given. I presume you are referring, as an example, to BiDil and the apparent differences in efficacy between blacks and whites. This has not been definitively shown to be related to genetic differences, though there is some evidence suggesting that inherent physiological differences may explain the disparity in response rates.. Still, it is not so easy to control for other variables (socioeconomic status, diet, exercise, etc) and race and still get a study with sufficient power to prove a significant percent of the variation in response to a particular drug is due to race. If such studies can be done and show that a particular therapy works better on one race than another, sure I’m all for using that information. But I don’t know that racial differences will turn out to be as important as you seem to think they will. With BiDil, it may turn out that the specific subset of heart failure patients who respond better to this approach than traditional therapy will exist in all racial groups, and even if they are a higher proportion of the patients within one group or another, it is more important to find the specific markers that tell us an individual will respond better to this treatment, rather than assuming race is the best way to assign treatment.

And you haven’t really responded to the issue of whether the likely importance of such differences outweighs the potential misunderstandings and misuse of attempts to distinguish groups of people by race, especially in terms of something like IQ. Even if I agreed with your belief that IQ is a reliable measure of ability and that a meaningful difference between groups with different skin color could be demonstrated (which I don’t), what purpose is served by trying to prove one race is smarter than another? Is the value of proving this greater than the harm likely to follow?

 

If race isn’t a real thing, no-one could be racist. If there is no such thing as race, how could anyone assign social or economic indicators to various ‘races’?

My point is precisely that people assign race to individuals based on an erroneous perception that the physical characteristics they observe (skin color, eye shape, etc) are markers of general categories that individuals can be assigned to, and that then have some biological or social significance. The genetic studies regarding race don’t come close to demonstrating differences that correspond in power or importance to the traditional concept of races. As even you admit, any differences which can be proven between groups don’t allow you to say much about the nature of specific individuals. Yet that is exactly what people use categories of race to do. Black people are better athletes than white people but not as smart, Asians are smarter than white people but emotionally cold and unimaginative, Jews are greedy, Native Americans are drunkards, blah, blah, blah. Racism exists because people believe race exists and has significant value for making generalizations about groups that can then be applied to individual members of those groups. My point is that genetically race barely exists at all (explaining <6-8% of the genetic variance between groups), and that it does not allow one to make accurate a priori judgements about individuals. Sure, there are some genetic differences between groups, but so what? This knowledge does little or nothing to foster any kind of social or economic equity, which you seem to agree is an appropriate thing to try and achieve. On the contrary, the social construct of race, regardless of any underlying biological reality, is almost always a justification for opression, intergroup violence, and other forms of bad behavior. So I don’t see at all how your idea that identifying differences between races on a biological level diminishes racism.

I suppose, to be fair, you sound as if you’re reacting to what I characterised earlier as the outdated notion that any acknowledgment of differences between groups was de facto racism, so to be equitable we should all pretend no such differences exist. As I’ve already said, ,I’m not making this argument. But I think the specific categories most people associate withr ace have very little underlying biological reality, and that apart from some possible benefits in terms of preventative medicine, there is generally little good, and likely much evil, to come from efforts to identify specific genetic differences between racial groups. The interindividual variation is still so much greater that our energy could be far better spent in other areas of genetic research than race characterisation.

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Posted: 15 March 2007 06:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 33 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

If genetic differences did exist, I don’t see how you could deny the practical effect. If a particular heart medication worked better for black people than similar medications targeting the same problem, the sensible thing to do is assign that medication first. Like everything in the fuzzy world of pharmacology, there is specific person-medication interaction, and medicines need to be trialled on a particular patient to find what works best for that patient. Why not start with a medication that is known to work better on blacks in general, than start randomly?

There’s no question genetic differences between individuals exist, and that these are greater, and probably more important than differences between racial groups, however you define them. These obviously are important for pharmacology, and there is research going on to improve our understanding, but we’re a long way from being able to tailor medications to an individual’s genome, unfortunately. Still this is an important area of research.

There are also differences between groups of people associated, roughly, with the continent their ancestors came from. As you point out, skin color is an obvious one. The important question is do the specific differerences have an effect on such important variables as response to medications?They may, but I don’t think it’s a given. I presume you are referring, as an example, to BiDil and the apparent differences in efficacy between blacks and whites. This has not been definitively shown to be related to genetic differences, though there is some evidence suggesting that inherent physiological differences may explain the disparity in response rates.. Still, it is not so easy to control for other variables (socioeconomic status, diet, exercise, etc) and race and still get a study with sufficient power to prove a significant percent of the variation in response to a particular drug is due to race. If such studies can be done and show that a particular therapy works better on one race than another, sure I’m all for using that information. But I don’t know that racial differences will turn out to be as important as you seem to think they will. With BiDil, it may turn out that the specific subset of heart failure patients who respond better to this approach than traditional therapy will exist in all racial groups, and even if they are a higher proportion of the patients within one group or another, it is more important to find the specific markers that tell us an individual will respond better to this treatment, rather than assuming race is the best way to assign treatment.

I agree that it is more important to find specific markers, and with out mapping of the human genome, the job is within the realm of possibility. And you are absolutely right that even if constellations of genes are more common in one particular race, it is still more useful to find out whether an individual has that particular setup.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

And you haven’t really responded to the issue of whether the likely importance of such differences outweighs the potential misunderstandings and misuse of attempts to distinguish groups of people by race, especially in terms of something like IQ. Even if I agreed with your belief that IQ is a reliable measure of ability and that a meaningful difference between groups with different skin color could be demonstrated (which I don’t), what purpose is served by trying to prove one race is smarter than another? Is the value of proving this greater than the harm likely to follow?

Just to clarify something - I do believe that IQ is a reliable indicator of ability (in fact, a passing knowledge of the psychological literature should make this obvious), but I never said there were definite differences between races in average IQ level.

I don’t think researchers in general (unless they are part of some kind of ideological think tank) would want to find evidence for such a thing as IQ differences between races. But I also don’t think that it should be taboo to look for it (I don’t think I need to talk about the dangers of prohibiting free inquiry). Not all scientific literature has to have an immediate, practical application.

In fact, it is almost certain that there is a difference, statistically speaking (however small, to some nth decimal place). What’s important is whether such a difference is practically significant (as you point out). If people seize on scientific facts of this kind to promote some other agenda (nonscientific or irrational) then hopefully we can make scientific and rational counterarguments.

[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

If race isn’t a real thing, no-one could be racist. If there is no such thing as race, how could anyone assign social or economic indicators to various ‘races’?

My point is precisely that people assign race to individuals based on an erroneous perception that the physical characteristics they observe (skin color, eye shape, etc) are markers of general categories that individuals can be assigned to, and that then have some biological or social significance. The genetic studies regarding race don’t come close to demonstrating differences that correspond in power or importance to the traditional concept of races. As even you admit, any differences which can be proven between groups don’t allow you to say much about the nature of specific individuals. Yet that is exactly what people use categories of race to do. Black people are better athletes than white people but not as smart, Asians are smarter than white people but emotionally cold and unimaginative, Jews are greedy, Native Americans are drunkards, blah, blah, blah. Racism exists because people believe race exists and has significant value for making generalizations about groups that can then be applied to individual members of those groups. My point is that genetically race barely exists at all (explaining <6-8% of the genetic variance between groups), and that it does not allow one to make accurate a priori judgements about individuals. Sure, there are some genetic differences between groups, but so what? This knowledge does little or nothing to foster any kind of social or economic equity, which you seem to agree is an appropriate thing to try and achieve. On the contrary, the social construct of race, regardless of any underlying biological reality, is almost always a justification for opression, intergroup violence, and other forms of bad behavior. So I don’t see at all how your idea that identifying differences between races on a biological level diminishes racism.

I suppose, to be fair, you sound as if you’re reacting to what I characterised earlier as the outdated notion that any acknowledgment of differences between groups was de facto racism, so to be equitable we should all pretend no such differences exist. As I’ve already said, ,I’m not making this argument. But I think the specific categories most people associate withr ace have very little underlying biological reality, and that apart from some possible benefits in terms of preventative medicine, there is generally little good, and likely much evil, to come from efforts to identify specific genetic differences between racial groups. The interindividual variation is still so much greater that our energy could be far better spent in other areas of genetic research than race characterisation.

To introduce another point at this late stage, what we haven’t considered is the additional variable of environment. I bring this up because I think some of the differences between races ARE real but are NOT necessarily genetic, but brought about by culture. For example, it is incontrovertible that some Asian cultures place higher value on collectivism vs individualism than Western cultures. This could have direct implications for work style, for example.

If researchers use race as a variable to explain behaviour, they are not necessarily making a statement about race-specific genes combinations.

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Posted: 16 March 2007 03:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 34 ]
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Metaphor, I kinda mentioned “environment” in my response to you on page 2:

I guess that’s why I’m more concerned about how such data is obtained, what factors are involved. I mean, if one student has all the resources conducive to academic success, e.g. stable home environment, good educational environment, determination, and opportunity then why wouldn’t he/she fare better academically and thus, subsequently, have a higher IQ than one who lacks these resources?

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Posted: 16 March 2007 03:25 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 35 ]
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I think some of the differences between races ARE real but are NOT necessarily genetic, but brought about by culture.

This is quite likely true. It is one of the reasons I think race is a poor marker for differences on an individual level. If you are interviewing people for a job, and if you expect someone who looks Asian to be more of a “team player” because you understand Asians have a more collectivist mindset, you are likely to be disappointed some fair percentage of the time, especially if the characteristics you’re looking for are not genetically determined. Maybe the person is an ideologfical outlier in their native cultuire (like us grin. Or maybe they were adopted and raised in America. Etc, etc, etc.

I think we agree that predicting anything useful regarding individuals based on race is not likely to be sucessful. And we agree that real differences, genetically and culturally determined, may exist between racial groups, though I suspect they are fewer and less significant than you seem to think they are. And while I also agree that prohibiting inquiry is dangerous and a bad idea, I don’t see great value in trying to define specific differences between races. The dangers of doing so seem to me likley to outweight the benefits, so it’s not an area of research I would encourage.

And finally, as for IQ, I think it measures something, but I don’t think we know exactly what. And I think there may be individual genetic or developmental reasons for individuals differences in IQ, but there are also environmental differences, and I don’t think we’ve separated them out as well as you think we have. And again, I don’t think we’re likely to be able to do anything better if we are able to prove differences in average IQ between racial groups, and we are likley to contribute to racism. It’s all well and good to say we can counter any misuse of research data with rational coutnerarguments, but that’s a bit of dodging social responsibility in the name of pure freedom of sccientific inquiry. As scientists we are culturally astute enough to understand the implications of our work, and we have to at least consider the benefit vs harm likely to stem from it.

Anyway, thanks for the stimulating discussion grin

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Posted: 16 March 2007 05:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 36 ]
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[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]

I think some of the differences between races ARE real but are NOT necessarily genetic, but brought about by culture.

This is quite likely true. It is one of the reasons I think race is a poor marker for differences on an individual level. If you are interviewing people for a job, and if you expect someone who looks Asian to be more of a “team player” because you understand Asians have a more collectivist mindset, you are likely to be disappointed some fair percentage of the time, especially if the characteristics you’re looking for are not genetically determined. Maybe the person is an ideologfical outlier in their native cultuire (like us grin. Or maybe they were adopted and raised in America. Etc, etc, etc.

I think we agree that predicting anything useful regarding individuals based on race is not likely to be sucessful. And we agree that real differences, genetically and culturally determined, may exist between racial groups, though I suspect they are fewer and less significant than you seem to think they are. And while I also agree that prohibiting inquiry is dangerous and a bad idea, I don’t see great value in trying to define specific differences between races. The dangers of doing so seem to me likley to outweight the benefits, so it’s not an area of research I would encourage.

And finally, as for IQ, I think it measures something, but I don’t think we know exactly what. And I think there may be individual genetic or developmental reasons for individuals differences in IQ, but there are also environmental differences, and I don’t think we’ve separated them out as well as you think we have. And again, I don’t think we’re likely to be able to do anything better if we are able to prove differences in average IQ between racial groups, and we are likley to contribute to racism. It’s all well and good to say we can counter any misuse of research data with rational coutnerarguments, but that’s a bit of dodging social responsibility in the name of pure freedom of sccientific inquiry. As scientists we are culturally astute enough to understand the implications of our work, and we have to at least consider the benefit vs harm likely to stem from it.

Anyway, thanks for the stimulating discussion grin

I’m worried that you think scientists need to justify research on a potential benefit vs harm outcome. If someone has an ideology, they wll peddle it with or without support of empirical data. If they misinterpret the connection between empirical facts and logical consequences, and believe a legitimate empirical finding (let’s say that Asians are shorter than white people on average) supports an irrational or unjustified idea (Asians should not be allowed to play basketball), we need to point out the irrationality. The Church could just as easily argue that evolutionary research is likely to lead to harm by threatening the authority of the Bible. Who decides what counts as harm? It is widely known that illicit drug use is higher in the gay and lesbian community compared to the wider community. This is siezed on by conservative social thinkers to ‘evidence’ their perceived notion of glbt immorality. Other thinkers could just as easily say it is a result of marginalisation of the gay community. Others still could say ‘so what? Drug use shouldn’t be illicit in the first place.’

When publishers did not publish the Danish Islam cartoons only because they feared for the safety of their employees, oppression and censorship had won. When that kind of behaviour is rewarded (ie threatening violence is rewarded by giving in to demands), nobody wins except the people threatening (and in a way, they lose out, too).

Intelligence studies in the psychological literature have tested many real-world predictors of intelligence, and have successfully quanitifed the genetic component to intelligence (via twin and familial studies).

But whatever the causes of intelligence are, we can certainly study the effects of intelligence on other variables. It isn’t difficult to do this. And when we see the kinds of things IQ predicts and the kinds of things it doesn’t, it is much clearer exactly what it measures.

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Posted: 16 March 2007 05:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 37 ]
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Just thought I’d send along kudos for a thorough, interesting and stimulating discussion on a very difficult topic.

I will also agree with Metaphor’s point (Pinker has made the same point repeatedly) that science should not be stifled, nor the facts altered, for political ends. That doesn’t mean that scientists shouldn’t be sensitive individuals (indeed, they must be in a country where much scientific research is government supported), however in all instances we must separate the facts from the moral implications of those facts. Nobody wins when information is fabricated or suppressed. Not that I think Brennen was suggesting such a thing, but the principle does need to be reinforced.

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Posted: 16 March 2007 06:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 38 ]
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Doug said:

I will also agree with Metaphor’s point (Pinker has made the same point repeatedly) that science should not be stifled, nor the facts altered, for political ends.

Pretty ironic comming from Pinker.. one of the MOST political “scientists” out there today!

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Posted: 16 March 2007 06:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 39 ]
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[quote author=“Barry”]Pretty ironic comming from Pinker.. one of the MOST political “scientists” out there today!

He would only appear that way to someone who was entirely politicized already. If you actually read him (or listen to his podcast) you find quite the opposite.

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Posted: 16 March 2007 06:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 40 ]
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Doug:

 

 

www.rockridgeinstitute.org/research/lakoff/whencognitivescienceenterspolitics/?forPrint=1

 

Just for starters.

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Posted: 16 March 2007 06:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 41 ]
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So what? People disagree with him. You’re grinding that same axe, Barry.

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Posted: 16 March 2007 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 42 ]
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So what? People disagree with him. You’re grinding that same axe, Barry.

And what axe is that Doug?  I said Pinker was political. These folks say Pinker is political.  Others say Pinker is political.  YOU dissagree.  YOU are therefore grinding your own axe.. that Pinker is apolitical.

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Posted: 16 March 2007 07:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 43 ]
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Uh, righto. rolleyes  Let’s see what other people think.

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Posted: 16 March 2007 08:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 44 ]
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Of course I agree, and I said specifically, that no question should be deemed unaskable or unanswerable for political or cultural reasons. And I’m not advocating threatening or intimidating anybody, so watch the creation of straw men here. However, scientists can’t pretend science takes place in a social vacuum and that their work has no consequences. If you decide to investigate better ways of deploying biological weapons, you can’t pretend there’s no ethical issue to consider. Obviously an extreme example, but my point is that scientists live in the world and have their own biases and agendas, and research takes place in a social context. The scientific method does a great deal to correct for bias, but there’s nothing wrong with suggesting scientists consider questions of ethics and practical consequences when choosing lines of inquiry to follow. And in a democracy with a multiplicity of points of view, scientists do have to justify their inquiry to anyone they seek funding from, including the general public if they get their resources from the government.

You defend the idea that groups and individuals likely vary in basic intellectual ability due, to a significant extent, to inherent genetic factors ( a point which, as I said in the Islamophibia thread I am willing to be educated on if my information is out of date). And yet you haven’t addressed the question of why we should care. What is the value of answering the question? And you seem to feel that it makes no difference if such research, which in the past at least has been poorly conducted and ideologically motivated, leads to great social harm.  It’s naive to say that knowledge of any kind is an end in itself that needs no justification to pursue. I support academic freedom, but I think I have historical justification for being anxious about the value and consequences of research that supports social prejudices our society has struggled so hard to diminish.

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Posted: 16 March 2007 08:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 45 ]
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