Strong opinions, weakly held

William Saletan needs to be fired

William Saletan is Slate’s resident science writer, and his long time hobby has been chiding liberals for what he’d probably call elitism. He’s not a conservative writer, rather he’s one of these people who seeks to demonstrate his wisdom by widening his perspective and trying to argue that people on all sides commit the same sins. He’s spent a lot of time writing about abortion in exactly this way.

A couple of weeks ago, Saletan started a new series discussing the idea that there really are hereditary differences in IQ that correlate with race and that liberals who refuse to accept it are just like creationists, dismissing science that doesn’t fit their belief system. Never mind that his comparison was completely fallacious. There is plenty of legitimate scientific research out there which contradicts his claims on IQ and race. His bigger problem is that the “facts” on which he relies are the product of junk science being pushed by white supremacists.

Today Slate runs a piece by Stephen Metcalf which utterly demolishes Saletan’s claims, and exposes the studies he cites as the pseudoscientific, racist tracts that they are. I don’t think that Saletan needs to be hung in the public square, but his eagerness to service his ongoing conceit trumped his duty to investigate and report the facts, and it’s time for him to go.


  1. This “hereditary differences in IQ” debate has been in the news a lot this year, and it’s got me bored out of my mind. To make the seemingly endless stories more entertaining, I mentally replace all mentions of “IQ” with “penis size.” It doesn’t make them any more or less relevant, but it ups the giggle factor slightly.

    Of course there are hereditary factors affecting that generalized mish-mash of behaviors we call intelligence. There are also environmental factors, and for all I know maybe even totally random, roll-the-dice factors. Who cares? The only possible utility that could arise from studying those factors would be something that helps us make generalizations, or something that helps us make predictions. “Short people tend to be smarter than tall people” is a generalization. “Your child is short, therefore he will probably be smarter than average” is a prediction. I’m not sure either generalizations or predictions like that have much practical use. They’re scientific, to be sure; I just don’t think they’re useful.

    Now, if somebody can turn all this research toward figuring out better ways to maximize people’s potential — particularly the potential of all the kids we’re trying so very hard to educate — then I’m all for it. But research that only supports conclusions of the form “White people drive like this, and black people drive like this” doesn’t strike me as a very good use of anybody’s time or money.

    And frankly, that goes double for research that seeks to prove that, really, black people and white people drive pretty much the same way, and no real generalizations about how people drive based on their race stand up to careful scrutiny. Because, see, we already knew that. It’s like spending half a million bucks in grant money to prove that flowers are pretty. Big whoop.

  2. The black-white IQ gap is still a standard deviation in this country — that is to say, black IQ averages around 85, while white IQ is around 100.

    The idea that, unlike every other single human feature we know, IQ cannot have undergone selection pressure for separated populations, is just absolutely, earth-shatteringly, preposterous.

    While I don’t know much about Saletan, or his articles, the guys over at GNXP do some excellent work in shattering academic orthodoxies about intelligence and race.

    I’d recommend reading that site’s archives in toto before casting aspersions on the idea that race has nothing at all to do with intelligence.

    Incidentally, I think, and the data shows, that east Asian IQ is (at least) half an SD above white IQ. (I am white.) Does this make me a racist?

  3. I’m not really interested in debating whether or not there is a racial link to intelligence. What I am more interested in is the irresponsibility of the way Saletan handled the topic. For what it’s worth, I don’t think he’s a racist, I think he’s an ass.

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