You can’t help wondering about legal academics. What with Deakin University’s Mirko Bagaric waxing lyrical about the inherent morality of torture, and his colleague James McConvill arguing a variety of increasingly bizarre propositions (most recently today’s article claiming that insider trading is a wonderful thing that shouldn’t be illegal), you could be forgiven for concluding that academic lawyers’ grasp of the world of ideas beyond black letter law is more than a tad deficient.
Then there’s US legal academic Cass Sunstein, who reckons legislators are under a moral duty to impose the death penalty. But Macquarie University’s Andrew Fraser almost certainly takes the cake for sheer ignorant racist effrontery. He argues for a latter day White Australia policy on the seemingly contradictory twin bases that we might be swamped by black Africans who are so congenitally stupid that they’ll resort to crime and violence in epidemic numbers, and also by Asians who are on average so much smarter than white Australians that we’ll end up as a servile underclass!
Where does this nonsense come from?
Well, there certainly appears to be a live academic debate among psychologists about the existence and extent of race-based IQ differences (and more importantly, what the data connote). Fraser’s claim that black Africans have an average IQ of 70 (borderline moron level) appears to emanate from Irish academic Richard Lynn (there may be an unconscious irony in the fact that the latter is a professor at the University of Ulster), while his broader claims probably emanate partly from J Phillip Rushton’s book Race, Evolution And Behavior: A Life History Perspective:
Rushton posits a panoply of physical and/or mental traits whose incidences run along an continuum with East Asians at one extreme, Africans at the opposite extreme, and Europeans in the middle. (http://www.charlesdarwinresearch.org/Race_Evolution_Behavior.pdf) The book claims that Asians, on average, are the most intelligent, have the lowest crime rates, work hardest, are the least promiscuous, the least aggressive, have the largest brain size, lowest rate of birth to twins, the slowest maturation rates, greatest parental investment in child-rearing, lowest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, the longest life expectancy, the greatest degree of emotional control, and the least amount of body odor (due to their apocrine glands being smallest and least numerous). The book claims that Blacks average at the opposite end on all of these scales, and Whites rank in between Asians and Blacks, but closer to Asians. The book uses averages of hundreds of studies, modern and historical, to support these claims.
Fraser’s obnoxious opinions may also have been partly gleaned from Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s 1995 book The Bell Curve.
But more recent research seems to undermine the odiously racist conclusions touted expressly by Rushton and Andrew Fraser (and implicitly by Herrnstein and Murray). Although it now seems fairly well accepted that there are significant measurable differences in average IQ between races, that doesn’t mean what racists like Fraser would have us believe. Some researchers (e.g. Fischer et al. (1996)) have argued that the type of IQ test used by Herrnstein and Murray is really a test of schooling rather than intelligence (a critique that arguably applies to most IQ tests to some extent). Perhaps more importantly, recent research indicates that heredity/genes account for only 40-50% of a person’s intelligence, with the rest being attributable to environment. Thus, the lower IQ scores of black Africans probably reflect much more the cultural bias of the IQ test itself along with extreme social deprivation and poverty (MacIntosh (1998)) than innate genetically determined stupidity:
In a society where many children are severely malnourished and live in grossly overcrowded slums, ravaged by infectious diseases; where relatively few children receive any formal education at all… there can be little doubt that differences in IQ scores will be partly a result of these environmental differences…
That hardly provides a sound basis for excluding them as potential Australian migrants. You would think that this would be somewhat self-evident, but apparently not to Andrew Fraser. He argues that “an expanding black population is a sure-fire recipe for increases in crime, violence and a wide range of other social problems“. But the facts don’t bear out the claim. The only Australian study of crime and ethnicity AFAIK is a 1999 Australian Institute of Criminology paper by Satyanshu Mukherjee, which found that most migrant groups had significantly lower crime rates than white Australians (although Kiwis, Vietnamese and Lebanese are exceptions). Alan Reifman notes recent research specifically directed at Herrnstein and Murray’s claims in The Bell Curve (TBC):
Two teams of scholars — Claude Fischer and colleagues (1996) from Berkeley who focused on predicting poverty, and Francis Cullen and colleagues from various universities who focused on crime outcomes (Cullen, Gendreau, Jarjoura, & Wright, 1997) — set out to rectify matters in their respective areas using the same data source as was used by Herrnstein and Murray, the NLSY.
Fischer et al. (1996), in their book Inequality By Design, recalculated TBC’s equation predicting the probability of being poor. They found that when a fuller set of potential determinants was included (whether someone was reared on a farm, came from a two-parent family, had been in an academic track in school, etc.), the social and environmental factors were more powerful predictors than IQ.
Cullen and colleagues (1997) noted that:
“In a normal scientific approach, Herrnstein and Murray would have first identified the known predictors of crime and then sought to demonstrate that IQ could explain variation above and beyond these criminogenic risk factors. These factors are identified in the readily available literature including Herrnstein’s own [prior] work… By limiting their analysis primarily to three factors — IQ, SES, and age — they risk misspecifying their model and inflating the effects of IQ” (p. 393).
Reanalyses including additional predictors such as religious involvement and academic aspirations indeed showed IQ to have less of an impact on criminal behavior than did the original TBC analyses.
In other words, although IQ isn’t totally irrelevant to life outcomes like crime and poverty, it’s less important than social and environmental factors, and IQ itself is significantly determined by social and environmental factors:
The IQ scores vary greatly among different nations for the same group. Blacks in Africa score much lower than Blacks in the US. The Black-White gap is smaller in the UK than in the U.S. Another example is Jews who score much lower in developing nations and Koreans who score much lower in Japan. There are other examples of IQ score differences between close neighbours in the same nation, for example between French vs. Flemish speakers in Belgium, Slovaks vs. Gypsies in Slovakia, Irish and Scottish vs. English in Great Britain, and white speakers of Afrikaans vs. white speakers of English in South Africa. The difference between the neighboring white Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland is as large as the differences between whites and blacks in the U.S.
Like Andrew Fraser, I have no expert knowledge at all about questions of race, IQ, poverty and criminality. But it didn’t take very much Googling to discover that his claims are scientific gobbledygook. He is, as Jason Soon noted, a mountebank (a delightful word that deserves to make a comeback) and a racist.
I suspect the actual state of current human knowledge in this area is best summarised by Turkheimer and Waldron (2000):
[S]ome aspects of the development of complex human behavior may remain outside the domain of systematic scientific investigation for a very long time. Although developmentalists may be disappointed that a substantial portion of human development remains too complex, too interactive, and too resistant to controlled investigation and straightforward statistical methods to yield to systematic scientific analysis as we currently understand it, it must be remembered that the alternative — a world in which human behavior could be understood all the way down in terms of correlations between difference scores — would present its own gloomy prospects in the ethical evaluation of human agency …