That Cofnas Paper On Research On Group Differences In Intelligence

That Cofnas Paper On Research On Group Differences In Intelligence

Find by general acclaim the smartest man in the world. Call this man “Group A”. Call everybody else “Group B”.

There will necessarily be a group difference in mean intelligence, and even in the distribution of intelligences, however intelligence might be measured, if it could be unambiguously measured, between the groups.

Throat clearing: Intelligence cannot be measured unambiguously. There is some uncertainty in measuring intelligence, mainly in the attempts to quantify the unquantifiable and the misunderstanding of the nature or essence of the human intellect and will, which lead to the unfortunate widespread error of reifying “IQ” as intelligence. IQ is nothing but a score on a test or tests: it is not intelligence. Nobody “has” an IQ like they have height. Read all about these concerns in “The Limitations And Usefulness Of IQ“.

Even though intelligence cannot be unambiguously measured, it can at least be generally measured. We suppose the smartest man can be identified, or at least narrowed down to a small set of candidates. Call the small set of candidates “Group A” and everybody else “Group B” and it also follows there will be group differences.

Group differences in intelligence are therefore real. Something, actually many things we suspect, caused the intelligence of each person in each group. Given we are at least partially biological creatures, and some causes of intelligence are biological, some of the causes of difference in intelligence are biological and therefore heritable. Since there are differences in group intelligence, there are difference in causes of intelligence between groups.

All these are deductions made on simple observations.

Now it may be politically unwise to broadcast these deductions; however, it would be impossible to suppress them since, experience has shown, people of at least modest intelligence can work them out for themselves.

Tell a midget, “You are short and will never be tall.” Or tell a man, “You are a man and will never be a woman”, and you may in both cases hurt the feelings of these individuals. But you also hurt the feelings of a schoolchild by telling him that, alas, today is not a snow day. Not all truths need be broadcast when more harm than good would result, such as telling your wife that, yes, she does look fat in those jeans.

Enter Nathan Cofnas with his “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry” in Philosophical Psychology, which is causing nervousness among the Equality set. These are folks who believe, in direct opposition to all observational evidence and deductions like those above, that there are no group differences in intelligence, or, if there are, that these differences should be hushed up. Only the latter opinion might make sense; the first is false.

From the Abstract:

In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence. We should be prepared for the possibility that these variants are not distributed identically among all geographic populations, and that this explains some of the phenotypic differences in measured intelligence among groups.

This is purposely terse, but since intelligence can only be measured ambiguously, and there is some error in measuring genetic markers, there will be uncertainty in identification of these markers and thus in identifying heritability, which will be over-certain. This is a statistics problem, with the standard misconceptions between parametric and predictive uncertainty in play. These can be read about here and here. Accepting that as read, the continuing with the Abstract:

However, some philosophers and scientists believe that we should refrain from conducting research that might demonstrate the (partly) genetic origin of group differences in IQ. Many scholars view academic interest in this topic as inherently morally suspect or even racist. The majority of philosophers and social scientists take it for granted that all population differences in intelligence are due to environmental factors. The present paper argues that the widespread practice of ignoring or rejecting research on intelligence differences can have unintended negative consequences. Social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences may fail to achieve their aims. Large swaths of academic work in both the humanities and social sciences assume the truth of environmentalism and are vulnerable to being undermined. We have failed to work through the moral implications of group differences to prepare for the possibility that they will be shown to exist.

The reification of IQ with intelligence is there, and everywhere in the paper, as it is everywhere in papers like this. Do not let it fall from your mind that IQ is not intelligence and that to say so increases over-certainty.

That some scholars “view academic interest in this topic as inherently morally suspect or even racist” is because, as everybody knows, race differences in intelligence has been persistently observed. We can let race be self-identified, just as our groups above were self identified. The self-identification, even if there truly are no such things as human races, does not erase the observed differences in what everybody calls race.

Equalitarians either think that everybody could be as intelligent as everybody else, given the right circumstances, a belief which is akin to saying everybody can be the same height, for which there is no evidence whatsoever, and which all evidence is against. Or they believe the group identifications are correct and that the distribution of intelligence inside each group is the same or could be made the same in every group. This is like saying the distribution of height is the same or could be made the same for men and women. Again, there is no evidence for this belief; all observation is against it. With the exception that this belief could be true by careful selection of groups.

One last warning: suppose you (recalling the ambiguities in measurement) either belong to (A) the group with highest average intelligence, or (B) the group with the lowest average intelligence. You do not therefore necessarily posses this average. If you are in A you may be dumber than every person in B; or again, you may be in B but be smarter than everybody in A. Your group does not decide your (entire) fate.

Yet it is also not wrong for an outsider who knows only that you belong to a group to guess you are near the average intelligence of that group. It is thus also not wrong to base at least some decisions based on the observed group differences.

With all the qualifications just given, now go and read Cofnas, who gives some good and some less good reasons for investigating group differences in intelligence. You have to hand it to him because, though he is for these investigations, he manages to bring up Nazis.

A common fear is that, if race differences were proven to have a genetic basis, this would cause people to turn to Nazism. Indeed, the study of race differences is often explicitly equated with Nazism. This fear seems to be based on a historical misunderstanding. Nazi ideology was not based on scientific discoveries. The Nazis were flagrant pseudoscientists whose research in biology and psychology was permeated with ideology

National socialism isn’t, as he said, based on group differences in intelligence. In any case, Nazi, racist, and white supremacist are all synonyms of each other and of evil person. Thus the real fear is that evil people will use the observed group differences in intelligence to make unjust decisions about people because they are members of less intelligent groups.

It’s not a philosophical point to notice unjust decisions making happens already, and in both directions. It is as unjust to make a short man a member of a basketball team as it is to tell a man he can’t play basketball because he belongs to a group known to have poor playing abilities, even though this particular man can play well.

Likewise, it is unjust to plop an unintelligent person into a quantum mechanics class, as it is also unjust to bar a man from that course because he belongs to a group known to do poorly in these classes.


  1. Gary

    The fundamental problem, of course, is the definition of intelligence. At problem solving? At negotiating? At figuring out a navigation route in an unsafe neighborhood? At seeing through the lies of slick politicians? Culture and experience as well as environmental factors (exposure to drugs for instance) likely affect the various types of demonstrated intelligence as much as does biology.

  2. Ken

    Confas’ paper gets out there and if it’s facts about inequality on some measure (however crude) sticks…before you know it the whole equality ideology/movement is going to crumble under the weight of its own misconceptions.

    Being able to believe those misconceptions operates like a cartoon character that can defy gravity as long as they’re unaware they are unsupported. And very much effort, much irrationally nonsensical, is expended to preserve that ignorance.

    If people have varied intelligence, and varied opportunities relative to their varied abilities…those facts will (somewhere someday) negate equality of outcome. Until the next generation has to relearn all from scratch.

  3. Sheri

    “Not all truths need be broadcast when more harm than good would result, such as telling your wife that, yes, she does look fat in those jeans.” You flunked the test, Briggs. She KNOWS she looks fat and now she knows she’s also married to a liar and coward. I know, if you loved her…..If you believe that, it’s sad. Women who behave that are manipulative and mean.

    “A common fear is that, if race differences were proven to have a genetic basis, this would cause people to turn to Nazism.” We’re already at Nazism. We murder unborn people and we sexually mutilate children to make them into whatever sex we want irrepective of genetics. Just because genetics was the cover for human torture by the Nazis doesn’t mean we can’t do this without ever involving genetics.

    Who cares what “intelligent” means? Complete idiot is more important to define because as we now see, these are the people that destroy societies, enslave others, and deny reality. THESE are the people that need identified and contained. Honestly, there probably is no valid definition of intelligence. The closest I can come is putting someone in a life-or-death situation, explaining the possible outcomes, and if they live, they are intelligent.

  4. trigger warning

    Of course, all the political hoo-hah , statistical prestidigitations involving myriad multiple “intelligences”, and character assassinations of intelligence and race heretics is predicated on a perfectly reasonable, century-old attempt to predict which French school-age children might have academic difficulties. The goal was, in a context of finite educational resources, to maximize the hit rate and minimize the false alarm rate inherent in the selection process.

  5. Ray

    I became interested in psychometrics long ago and finally concluded that I have no idea what intelligence is but I recognize it when somebody has it. In the 1970s I did a lot of work for the advanced technology department where I worked, and the people in that department were really intelligent. Since they all had a PHD, I figured it was the diploma that made them intelligent.

  6. C-Marie

    From online: “The idea comes from a Latin word: intelligo meaning to choose between different options.”, then the following would apply, it seems.

    Intelligence is the ability to think, learn, act, and or absorb, concerning information regarding knowledge presented by others, environment, or self. It is also a process of applying knowledge. And it can be defined as the ability to adapt to the changes in others, self, and or the environment.

    Intelligence it seems, can be measured to a certain degree, but against what, so as to be fair to each person measured, for there are too many factors causing differences.

    God bless, C-Marie

  7. Kalif

    ‘…IQ is nothing but a score on a test or tests: it is not intelligence….’

    True that, but there are more issues with the research methods in the studies of this type, even before the data are collected. Forcing a naturally continuous variable (‘race’) into a dichotomous one(A group vs. B, C, D groups), means losing information due to the inherent variability within each ‘group’.
    So, if you get, say, 15 IQ pts. difference b/w the two groups in favor of group A, what does that mean at the population level? Assume the normal distribution, and it means there are millions of group B members that score higher on the IQ test than millions from group A, despite group A being higher on average.

    Even if we take sub-samples within each of the groups, the differences may be larger than b/w the groups, in which case we are only documenting the noise and calling it results.

    Not to mention that some aspects of intelligence are not even considered in formal IQ tests. What about muscle memory in gymnasts, surgeons, woodworkers, craftsmen, etc? Or visual and imagination abilities in artists? Those faculties don’t get as much press, but they are certainly part of the ‘intelligence’

  8. c matt

    I don’t know if I would count muscle memory as part of intelligence (seems more an effect of conditioning), but imaginative ability is a fair point. How do you measure that!?!

  9. The reason it is considered evil to study racial differences in intelligence is because there are so many people who are emotionally committed to two positions: racial equality and intelligence bigotry. They fear the idea that, for example, black people are less intelligent than white people, because if they believe this, then they either have to give up their commitment to racial equality or give up their intelligence bigotry, and they find both prospects frightening.

    The people who are comfortable with the possibility of group differences in IQ come in two types: those who are fine with both racial bigotry and intelligence bigotry, and those who don’t think intelligence is important when judging the worth of another human, so it doesn’t affect their belief in racial equality.

  10. C-Marie

    Thinking of intelligence only as a mental ability: Approximate ability to understand and act….use of intelligence….can be measured to a degree, but matching one with an other to find a level, it seems, cannot in truth be known until situations occur in which intelligence responses must be made. Even so, life experiences can cause the uses of intelligence to be altered depending upon the desire within individuals to “face” facts. Then, emotional responses might well come forward, and a testing of only mental responses could well not be possible. So, maybe out the window go any test results!
    God bless, C-Marie

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