Should Scientists Study Race and IQ?

Haim Watzman

The neurobiologist Steven Rose argues in an essay in the Feb. 12 issue of Nature that there are certain hunches scientists should not follow—namely, those which have to do with the relationship between race, gender, and intelligence. In a paired essay, developmental psychologists Stephen Ceci and Wendy M. Williams argue for the pursuit of such research, even if it threatens to have dangerous and socially divisive implications.

The essays are available on-line only to subscribers to the journal (although the opinion forum where the pieces are discussed by readers is publicly accessible). So I’ll briefly outline the two arguments and explain why I think Ceci and Williams make a stronger case—and why I suspect that Rose means more than he says.

Rose writes:

To meet the canons of scientific enquiry a research project must meet two criteria: first, are the questions that it asks well-founded?… And second, are they answerable with the theoretical and technical tools available?

Rose summarizes the sorry history of science that has sought to prove innate disparities in intelligence and abilities between men and women or between white Europeans and other races and ethnic groups.

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Black and Blue: Obama and Golda

Haim Watzman

There wasn’t much to read in this morning’s Ha’aretz. Nearly every one of the paper’s senior writers has written a piece about how amazing it is that the United States is on the verge of electing a black president.

It is amazing, of course, especially for anyone my age and above, those who can still remember segregation and Jim Crow. But there’s something patronizing about all this going ga-ga over Obama’s race–as if voters are choosing him because he’s black. In fact, it’s his policies and his personality that are attracting Americans; if he wins it will be despite, not because, he’s black.

Ha’aretz‘s swoon over Obama reminds me of how American Jews tend to melt inside when they talk about Golda Meir. Seeing Israel through the lenses of American liberalism, many American MOTs view Meir as a paragon of liberalism and feminism. After all, she was a woman elected to Israel’s highest political office at a time when American feminism was just taking off. So her choice must demonstrate the maturity and lack of sexism of Israeli voters.

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Wright, Race and Contested Stories

Gershom Gorenberg

If you want to understand why Rev. Jeremiah Wright said the US government invented Aids, or what Barack Obama sought to accomplish in his Philadelphia speech on race, the best commentary is political scientist Marc Howard Ross’s book “Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict” – even if it never mentions Obama or Wright.

I described Ross’s book in my recent American Prospect piece about the smears against on Robert Malley and the shoutfest over Israeli-Palestinian history. Ross describes the critical role of the stories that

…ethnic groups build to explain their past, their present, and their relation to their opponents. The narratives are “compelling, coherent” and link “specific events to that group’s general understandings.”

They are also selective and inaccurate. Disagreement with a group’s memory is often perceived as an attack on its identity, if not its existence.

Ross certainly isn’t the first to talk about a shared narrative as part of ethnic identity. In Israel, there’s constant discussion in the tenure-track class of the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative and how they don’t fit together. For Israelis, 1948 means independence; for Palestinians, the same date equals catastrophe. For Israelis, the southeast corner of Jerusalem’s Old City is the Temple Mount, proof of Jews’ ancient connection to their land; for Palestinians, the same place is Al-Aqsa Mosque, the place where Islam and Palestinian nationalism are fused together.

But Ross gives the best description I’ve seen yet of how such narratives are put together,

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