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Research Should Be Done
On Race Differences In Intelligence
Armando E. Garcia
Saint Mary’s University
Research Should Be Done On Race Differences In Intelligence
Should research be done on race differences in cognitive ability? The position that I have taken is, Yes, or to be more accurate, Yes, in accordance with ….
Yes, in accordance with research that is justly motivated, ethically performed, and sufficiently communicated.
Note that the requirements do not include: “and be pertinent to racial differences from a purely environmental perspective.” I feel that research on racial differences should be done from any perspective that might grant us information on the subject matter. I also feel that the stated qualifications should apply to any research done on this topic. “Ignorance is never to be preferred to knowledge” (Harrington, 1990, p. 156).
People have avoided the topic of racial differences for many reasons. Some people sense that racial differences are unpleasant matters not to be referred to in a polite society. Others tend to believe that such differences should be the object of appreciation and enjoyment, rather than of analysis. Some fear that discussing intelligence in accordance to race will promote racism. Others desire to understand the nature and origin of racial differences, sometimes out of curiosity, sometimes with the goal of changing (some of) them. For these people the research should be suitable. It is also important to take into consideration what research one wants to do on racial differences, and why one is interested. If this self-questioning
leads to the belief that the research in mind is sensible and the motives pure, there is still
the communication that needs to be considered. Communication to both the sensible
nature of the research and the worthiness value of the intentions to an audience that may manifest in both a lack of education and paranoia. It is probably impossible to make research into racial differences totally risk free, but damage control must be considered.
To avoid adverse impact when discussing race differences, one should keep several principles in mind, the first being:
To state clearly what the results mean and what they do not indicate. When discussing the findings in race differences it is important to keep in mind that, many people care passionately. Most of them are not experts in interpreting research, although many may pride themselves on being informed and literate. Unsophisticated people could possibly misinterpret the findings and draw their own flawed conclusions, unless they are specifically told not to.
Another important aspect to keep in mind is to put matters in a quantitative perspective. To not place so much emphasis on statistical significance, and put more stress on effect sizes and variance accounted for, and the like. If the general public is informed that 2% of the variance of some behavior is accounted for by race, they would be less apt to do something foolish than if they were told that the racial differences is significant at well beyond the .0001 level. The latter fact about difference is crucial to a
scientist, since it informs him/her that there is something there to be pursued and
understood. The former fact provides a much more relevant viewpoint for the general
The last thing to keep in mind is to be tactful. This may be the least important. However, there is a caution. To be too tactful is to be condescending, which is, morally speaking, at least as bad as being rude. Sometimes emphasis must override tact. Nevertheless, other things equal, there is often a choice between stating something in a way that will increase or that will decrease the probability of the reader feeling aggrieved. It is sometimes just a matter of thinking a little about choices of metaphors. The late William Shockly once made a comment about Nature, saying that “color-coded groups of individual so that statistical reliable predictions of their adaptability to intellectually rewarding and effective lives can easily be made and profitably be used by the pragmatic man in the street”(Shockley, 1972, p. 307). This metaphor was an wrong choice, from at least two different perspectives. First, it is equivocal in an extremely fundamental fashion. Color coding of electrical components are to let the user know what the internal characteristics of the devise are from the external code. This works because the user can have faith in the manufacturer to supply components bearing a certain color code that are consistent in the coded-for property, and distinct from components of different colors. If electrical manufacturer did as badly as Nature apparently has-so that components bearing
any color code varied widely among themselves, and overlapped extensively with the components of other color codes-users would abandon the color coding as worthless, and
resort to direct tests on the components themselves to find one that in fact has the
Another objection to the metaphor is that it is value-laden, and the values are not
very sympathetic ones. Why should ordinary people of color, be equated to
simple electrical components whose only role is as interchangeable parts in more complex systems? Why should Nature be arranging things for the benefits of personnel managers? I think that if Professor Shockly had written down the quoted sentence and then stopped to think whether it might give a misleading impression or unintended offense, Professor Shockly would have wound up saying it different.
The research of race differences in intelligence requires quite a bit of courage today. Mostly because scientists working in the area have to be constantly aware that
their freedom to seek knowledge carries a responsibility not to threaten the freedom on others. They must also be prepared to engage in an unceasing debate about the ethical issues raised by their research. As for the questions, at least some of them, should be able to be answered. So they ought to be asked. “There is a most absurd and audacious Method of reasoning avowed by some Bigots and Enthusiasts, and through Fear assented to by some wiser and better Men; it is this. They argue against a fair Discussion of Popular Prejudices, because, say they, tho’ they would be found without any reasonable Support, yet the Discovery might be productive of the most dangerous Consequences. Absurd and blasphemous Notion! As is all Happiness was not connected with the Practice
of Virtue, which necessarily depends upon the Knowledge of Truth” (Herrnstein, 1994, p. vi).
Atkinson, D. R. (1993). Who speaks for cross-cultural counseling research? Counseling-Psychologist, 21 (2), 218-224.
Claridge, G. (1990). The issue is not just race. Psychologische-Bertrage, 32 (1-2) 157-162.
Harrington, A. (1990). Studying race differences: or The problem of “value-free” science. Psychologische-Bertrage, 32 (1-2) , 151-156.
Herrnstein, J. R., Murray, C. (1994). The Bell Curve. New York, NY: Free Press.
Holland, N. (1989). Developing multicultural ethical guidelines for psychology. International Journal of Psychology, 24, 643-652.
Humphreys, G. L. (1988). Trends in levels of academic achievement of Blacks and other minorities. Intelligence, 12 (3), 231-260.
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