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  • Science and skin colour

    by Rumbold
    25th April, 2009 at 9:08 am    

    Most people don’t believe that others are biologically inferior because of the colour of their skin. However, you do get a few racists, like Charles Murray, who try and claim some link between (for example), intelligence and skin colour. In a neat article, Gracchi highlights these misconceptions and lies, and explains why they are scientifically unsound:

    “The heart of this is an argument that scientifically the concept of large races- based on geographical units and imagined cultural communities- make about as much sense as the sun circling the earth does, and it is based on the same kind of data- not scientific proof or experiment but the supposition that an apparant distinction (skin colour in this case) is a real one. What goes on above the skin, as Stephen Jones argues, doesn’t tell you much about what goes on below.”

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    Filed in: Race politics,Science

    32 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs
    1. pickles

      New blog post: Science and skin colour

    1. platinum786 — on 25th April, 2009 at 9:56 am  

      I don’t get what these white supremacists bang on about;

      Black people run faster and for longer and are said to have bigger you-know-whats.

      Brown people make better food, better clothes, we look after our old people and are smart enough to buy only german or japanese cars.

      Yellow people are better at mental arithmetic and programming VCR’s.

      What is it exactly that they think makes them superior?

      That was a joke btw

    2. KB Player — on 25th April, 2009 at 10:06 am  

      Yeah, and though there are plenty of clever, talented and good looking white people, can you name one who has joined a white supremacist party? To qualify for recruitment you seem to have to be abnormally ugly and thick, preferably with a criminal record.

    3. DavidMWW — on 25th April, 2009 at 10:15 am  

      What is it exactly that they think makes them superior?


    4. David Jones — on 25th April, 2009 at 10:27 am  

      I’m not sure your science or your strategy is on the right track here.

      Medicine finds it useful to observe differences between haplotypes

      Self-identified racial categories agree broadly with cluster analysis of genetic differences.

      None of that supports discrimnatory behaviour of course but it does, currently support differential medical support and advice, for instance.

    5. marvin — on 25th April, 2009 at 10:57 am  

      I find it interesting to look at average IQ scores by country as according to this. I understand that some IQ averages have simply been averaged of scores between neighbouring countries, and there are a number of criticisms of methodology, but nonetheless interesting as a very rough guide. Their hypothesis is that national IQ is linked to wealth. I think that’s a rather flimsy argument personally.

      Of course UK is 100, cos it was invented here…
      With globalisation and easy migration I can envisage a normalisation of scores across the globe.

      Difference in IQ scores between areas is quite easily explainable by the way people use language. In Africa where there are thousands of languages, many of which are spoken but not written. You would expect that the the part of the brain that deals with visual puzzles to be less developed for example, without the regular need to visualise words and sentences. Conversely, where language is extremely visual as in Japanese and Chinese where you have hundreds of thousands of pictorial characters you would expect their ability with visual puzzles would be greater.

      It appears that culture and language are the biggest factors in IQ variations; so yes a person from a rural area in Africa where there is no written language is unlikely to be able to to score as high as person fluent in written Japan in IQ tests, being as it is that there will be a number of visual puzzles to solve in the test. Swap those people round at birth and I’m sure it would be proven that race has little or no effect on IQ, but language and culture very much so.

      And a reminder that IQ scores do not measure intelligence. It measures specific abilities that generally will have developed early on in life.

    6. billericaydicky — on 25th April, 2009 at 12:09 pm  

      I wonder if people who mention Murray and Hernstein’s “The Bell Curve”, it is on my bookshelf along with “Mein Kampf” and must have read on this subject Marek Khone’s “The Race Gallery”.

      There are various theories about Murray’s intentions mostly from people who have never read him. Woth reading is an earlier book called the “Underclass” which he claimed was undermining America. This was obviously very popular with Thatcher and he had tea with her on a couple of occasions after being brought over by the Sunday Times.

      He was saying that poverty is genetic and there is no good throwing money at it because you will never be able to lift people out of conditions they have created and will continue to creat whatever state assi tance they are given.

      While he targeted African Americans as being in the underclass he also pointed out that certain Asian and Japanese groups outscored Europeans. It is a complex subject and I would highly recommend Marek Kohn and his investigations of the Human Genome Project.

    7. David Jones — on 25th April, 2009 at 12:56 pm  

      Incidentally, what’s the basis for Rumbold’s claim that Murray is a racist?

    8. Narinder Purba — on 25th April, 2009 at 2:08 pm  

      In the States, where the African American population have had a history largely defined by subjugation, inequality, and neglect, a huge gulf opened up between blacks and whites in all aspects of life from basic nourishment, welfare, education, access to positions of power, thus allowing White Supremacists or anyone in support of the view that intelligence is defined by colour, to back up this argument with solid statistical figures.

      Of course colour has nothing to do with intelligence - that’s a load of crap - but it’s worth noting that geographical differences do allow for types of intellectual disparities to occur. For example, Chinese citizens are know for being mathematically proficient, much more so than there Western counterparts. Some might conceive this as being because Chinese people are “just born that way” but look deeper, we see that they 1) have a different approach to the study of maths, and 2) they invest a lot more effort in the subject.

    9. halima — on 25th April, 2009 at 3:32 pm  

      Don’t think Murray’s crime is that he is racist - lots of people have taken up his arguments and did this and that with it.

      But more fundamentally his arguments suggest that poor people deserve to be poor , always want to be welfare dependent etc etc . And he’s been criticized over the years by successive sociologists for getting things wrong abot poverty and the underclass. His work always has been dangerous for the underclass - whether they are white or black.

      Rumbold - interesting you’ve taken Murray’s work up in relation to ‘race’ .. You could do a follow-up to his arguments on the welfare state - and the need to destroy it and limit the role of the state…’tis what brought him to the public/academic limelight, as Bill says, with his book on the Underclass.

      Incredibly relevant to arguments on the white working classes at the moment.

    10. asquith — on 25th April, 2009 at 4:36 pm  

      I think you have simply bought into the hatred of Murray amongst those who deem what they think his views are to be unacceptable.

      The Bell Curve is, in my view, a book worth reading, seriously. He is a bit of a libertarian twat, but he doesn’t strike me as a racist & he has a fair bit of worthwhile stuff to say.

    11. DavidMWW — on 25th April, 2009 at 5:15 pm  

      Some might conceive this as being because Chinese people are “just born that way” but look deeper, we see that they 1) have a different approach to the study of maths, and 2) they invest a lot more effort in the subject.

      The reason seems much more likely to be linguistic.

    12. David Jones — on 25th April, 2009 at 8:23 pm  

      Of course colour has nothing to do with intelligence - that’s a load of crap

      But racial grouping, consonant with haplogroup, might. It’s possible. I have no idea if it does or doesn’t. Saying that even to moot the suggestion is racist is unhelpful.

      Human intelligence is obviously an evolved trait and human populations have been separated enough over time for some phenotypic effects to be selected for. It isn’t impossible that intelligence might have been selected for differentially, too. It isn’t racist to suggest it.

    13. Ravi Naik — on 26th April, 2009 at 9:06 am  

      It isn’t impossible that intelligence might have been selected for differentially, too. It isn’t racist to suggest it.

      David Jones, science should be an exercise of good-faith. And it starts with a hypothesis - and you are right that, in principle researchers should be free to define their starting point.

      In that sense, how can one object to researchers who hypothesise that blacks are more prone to commit crime or are genetically incapacitated to perform intellectual tasks, that Jews are more prone to make money or run big corporations, that Indians are more prone to open corner shops or curry houses, that only whites can build civilisations?

      This is the sort of questions that people like Murray and Lynn look at. Are these valid questions? Well, this is the sort of scientific questions that biologists and then geneticists looked in the 18th, 19th and even in the 20th century. And then they discovered that race is a rather simplistic concept, that we are far more diverse, far more complex, and at the same time, we are connected in ways that go beyond race - Rumbold’s link in this post demonstrates that. At the same time, we are more aware about other civilisations outside Europe, who were far more advanced and knowledgeable.

      So, in the 21st century, when everyone has moved on, who actually is hanged-up on race, intelligence, behaviour and disregards everything we know about race? Well, not geneticists or biologists, but psychologists. Their field is not considered a real science for a good reason: the scientific methods used in that field can be deeply unreliable.

      Murray and Lynn’s problem is not that they are racist, but that they are bad researchers. They use arbitrary data to fit their hypotheses and biases, and then have the gull to conclude that there is a genetic root for those differences.

      There are several articles that focus on debunking Murray and Lynn’s work. One example of dishonesty, is that Lynn when computing the IQ of one African nation - because he didn’t have data - he used the IQ tests of Spanish children who were mentally incapacitated.

    14. platinum786 — on 26th April, 2009 at 12:23 pm  

      Also why is it white people in England get sunburnt, apparently in their “own” climate. Go back to Scandanavia.


    15. David Jones — on 26th April, 2009 at 12:40 pm  

      David Jones, science should be an exercise of good-faith.

      Absolutely, Ravi. So let’s not pretend that genetics research hasn’t identified haplotypes that correspond with self-identified racial grouping and that ‘race’ is a purely cultural construct, shall we?

      Murray and Lynn’s problem is not that they are racist

      Except that the author of this blog post called Murray precisely that - a racist.

      Well, not geneticists or biologists, but psychologists. Their field is not considered a real science for a good reason

      It’s the sociologists who persist in your view, not the scientists. Steve Hsu’s a professor of Physics:

      Enought of a science for you? As he says,

      Official statements by the American Sociological Association and the American Anthropological Association even endorse the view that race is not a valid biological concept, which is clearly incorrect.

      But don’t let that disturb your outdated pc beginners guide to biology.

    16. Rumbold — on 26th April, 2009 at 1:31 pm  

      I would argue that Murray was guilty of ‘scientific racism’. Certainly he would have been aware of the implications of his research, and what he was asking.

    17. David Jones — on 26th April, 2009 at 2:15 pm  

      I would argue that Murray was guilty of ’scientific racism’.

      The fact you have to stick it in quotes suggests there’s a problem. Do you mean he’s a racist, as the author of the blog post says he is, or don’t you?

    18. DocMartyn — on 26th April, 2009 at 5:40 pm  

      IQ test results show the ability to do IQ tests. They do measure something, but exactly what is not quite certain.

      I am a dyslexic, I have a CSE grade 3 in English, a written language age of 12 (using keyboards this rises) and three degrees.
      I have scored as low as 85 and as high as 140 in a wide variety of IQ tests.
      My mind is very good at handling 3D information, be it machines or high resolution crystal structures of proteins.
      My brain is very bad at converting a series of 2D symbols into sounds.
      Oddly, I have no problem with either chemical or mathematical symbolic representations.
      My brain architecture has a very strong genetic component as one of my brothers and maternal grandmother were similarly wired.
      Now I am just a guy who appears on the extreme right or left of all the population curves for specific intelligence skills. I am a long way away from the mean in a lot of areas.
      However, why different ethnic groups should have the same means as the people who devise IQ tests is debatable.
      As an individual, I am a well out of the 95%ile in many respects, compared with the rest of the WASPS, this does not devalue me or them.
      I ‘suspect’ that we would find large variations in the means of different ethnic groups, in some measures of intelligence skills. I know that the wiring of the brains of the Australian Aboriginals is closer to mine that yours; but they, like me are an extreme case. This does not mean that a newborn Aboriginal cannot become the next Keats.
      There may be slight differences in the ‘population’ means of any bunch of peoples, but this means pretty much bugger all in the case of an individual drawn from that population.

      I know this to be the case from the ‘Flynn effect”. I suspect that pre-natal health and diet, post-natal parental attention and ethnic biase in IQ tests pretty much explain everything

    19. Bert Rustle — on 26th April, 2009 at 7:55 pm  

      David Jones 16, Ravi Naik 14 mentions … Lynn’s work. One example of dishonesty, is that Lynn when computing the IQ of one African nation - because he didn’t have data - he used the IQ tests of Spanish children who were mentally incapacitated. … which was previously discussed at

    20. David Jones — on 26th April, 2009 at 8:54 pm  

      Bert - I don’t understand your point. What does Ravi talking about Lynn have to do with anything I’ve said? The Lynn mentioned is Richard Lynn presumably, yes? And he has what to do with Murray? What to do with the assertion that Murray’s a racist? What to do with my questions?

    21. KB Player — on 26th April, 2009 at 9:31 pm  

      Go back to Scandanavia.

      FFS, do you know how much booze costs there?

    22. Ravi Naik — on 26th April, 2009 at 10:35 pm  

      David Jones, I will respond to #16 soon.

      However, if you really want to know why Murray’s work is deeply flawed, call it scientific malpractice, you should read this. Make sure you click the red links to learn more.

    23. David Jones — on 27th April, 2009 at 7:04 am  

      Ravi - I wasn’t asking anyone to tell me about Murray’s work, flawed or not. I was asking what were the grounds for calling him a racist.

      He might be, I don’t know. What’s the reason for calling him it?

    24. Rumbold — on 27th April, 2009 at 9:05 am  

      David Jones:

      It you start assigning people of different races distinct genetic characteristics on the back of poor research, then I don’t think that racism is too strong a word, or at the very least, scientific racism.

    25. Ravi Naik — on 27th April, 2009 at 9:53 am  

      Ravi - I wasn’t asking anyone to tell me about Murray’s work, flawed or not. I was asking what were the grounds for calling him a racist.

      He might be, I don’t know. What’s the reason for calling him it?

      David Jones, I am not sure why it is controversial to say that Murray is racist.

      One cannot overemphasise the number of researchers, from his field (psychology) and other renown scientists who completely debunked Murray’s work on purely scientific grounds - from the arbitrary way he extrapolated data to cover the unknowns, to embarrassing mathematical errors (which by “coincidence” just happen to back the author’s claims), to disregarding any evidence that contradicts their hypotheses…

      Now that itself, would humble any proper researcher to improve the quality of their research, or face anonymity. But that didn’t happen with Murray. Instead of admitting that he committed scientific malpractice and therefore his hypothesis (there is a causation link rooted in genetics between race and intelligence) cannot be validated by his research, he went on full attack mode accusing his colleagues of being politically correct as if there was no other possible reason for invalidating his work.

      That is dishonesty. Is he racist? The fact that there is no scientific proof that blacks are genetically inferior than whites, that he has not acknowledged the flaws of his research, and keeps translating any criticism as an attack from politically correct troops who are denying the truth (his anyway), leads me to believe he is racist.

      Worse, if you go to stormfront - the biggest supremacist online site - you will find that his book (as well as Lynn’s) is considered scientific proof of the inferiority of blacks, Indians and Hispanics, and a warning against miscegenation with those people, because you know, “white genes” boost up intelligence.

      Anyway, that’s my opinion. Ultimately, whether Murray is racist or not is less important. As this detailed article about Murray and his book says at the end:

      “The question of whether Murray and his late co-author Richard Hernstein are themselves racists is a pointless and ultimately insoluble debate. What is unarguable, however, is the fact that they were willing employ sources infected with racist underpinnings in pursuit of arguments custom designed to appeal to racist inclinations on the part of their readers and reviewers.”

    26. David Jones — on 27th April, 2009 at 11:58 am  

      Ravi, you quote this:

      “The question of whether Murray and his late co-author Richard Hernstein are themselves racists is a pointless and ultimately insoluble debate*

      I presume in a laudable effort to move the conversation on - but of course it was the first, easy, cheap shot made by the author of this blog post.

      I don’t give a damn what Stormfrontsays. I don’t read their crap and I’m sure they’d find something to go on about regardless of research. Their misuse doesn’t make Murray culpable.

      The American Psychological Association writes:

      The differential between the mean intelligence test scores of Blacks and Whites (about one standard deviation, although it may be diminishing) does not result from any obvious biases in test construction and administration, nor does it simply reflect differences in socio-economic status. Explanations based on factors of caste and culture may be appropriate, but so far have little direct empirical support.

      which at least leaves the question open. Are they racist too? They may be.

      I think my fear about this insistence that variation in intelligence is entirely a social/cultural/ubringing affair, that not only is ‘race’ partly a cultural category but that there is no genetic correlate at all, all of this leaves one in an unfortuinate position were future research to suddenly demonstrate the opposite.

      Would discrimination and prejudice become ok? No, of course not. So the argument can’t hang on that in the first place.

      Whatever the facts, the spread and variation is so massively overlapping it makes not much difference anyhow and offers no advice on the treatment of any individual.

      And I’d be more wary about hurling around the accusation that people are racist.

    27. Jai — on 27th April, 2009 at 1:25 pm  

      I suggest that white people who are advocates of scientific research to determine race-based intelligence should be prepared to accept the results (and the associated awkward ramifications) if rigorous and honest analysis of the relevant data reveals that white people are not at the top of the tree in relation to intelligence, not only in comparison to Chinese people but also, for example, various other non-white groups (including South Asians).

      Now if the advocates concerned are willing to do that, and accept the results even if they’re not in their own favour, then we can accept that their motivations are sincere, and it’s “game on”.


      One more point I should make in response to assertions of intrinsic superiority. Until a couple of hundred years ago, for most of the last 10,000 years northern and northwestern Europe were amongst the most backward, uncivilised regions on the entire planet (the areas around the Mediterranean, however, are a different matter). I’m not just talking about “a bit behind the times”, but massively underdeveloped when it came to scientific understanding, technological development, architecture, involvement in global trade, philosophy, the works.

      If “inherent superiority” was hardwired into populations based on their race/ethnicity, then this would not have been the case — populations in these regions should have been the most advanced in the world right from the start, from the dawn of recorded human history and beyond, not just during the last couple of centuries post-Industrial Revolution.

      Something to think about, especially if you’re an advocate of such notions and possess roots in the chillier neighbourhoods of northern Europe, as opposed to Italy, Greece, and various other regions towards the East and South which border the Mediterranean.

    28. sonia — on 27th April, 2009 at 2:06 pm  

      given that science has not worked out intelligence and how much of it is inherited and how much of it is nurture, really this discussion is moot isn’t it.

      p.s. a lot of things seem to have been mixed up in this discussion - genetics is a bit wider than “skin colour” surely. even the idea of ‘race’ is so broad - you get just as much genetic variation ‘within’ the ‘group’ as you get compared to ‘another’ group. charles murray is a ‘political scientist’ anyway, hardly an expert on the study of intelligence (psychology) or some kind of biologist.

      whether his argument (which one can deconstruct scientifically based on the fact that we don’t know with regards to intelligence - how much of it is genetically inherited from your parents, and how much the social environmental factors - in which ‘social group’ obviously will play a part as well) is racist or not, well his bell curve book was controversial. and not particularly scientific i’d say -and he himself admits in that book that the debate about genes and environment is unresolved.

      (but of course racial stereotypes about intelligence are amusing) so no doubt this will be an interesting thread!

      its quite funny also hearing humans speaking about ‘superiority’ - ha ha, this does make me laugh. one look at all our collective history….

    29. sonia — on 27th April, 2009 at 2:12 pm  

      What is possibly more interesting - than banging on about genes - is the social ‘nurture’ element. its pretty obvious to anyone who’s looked that there are significant issues around the percentages of certain ethnic groups/social groups (e.g. white working class) at universities. so clearly something is happening - and what’s that? its obvious that social expectations play a big part in the choices in your life, what you aspire to. and seeing as ‘race’ is selective breeding at the end of the day, and within that you have more ‘selection’ e.g. sticking to certain ‘class’ groups - for some people who want to see it as purely ‘race’- biology based, you can see why maybe - but it is highly simplistic.

    30. sonia — on 27th April, 2009 at 2:17 pm  

      What’s ‘racist’ in this context anyway? His comments about his Thai wife suggest that he is certainly race - conscious, ‘group’ conscious, possibly in favour of keeping those groups separate (which could mean ‘racist’ in some people’s minds) whether he thinks his race is superior or not - I don’t know is clear from his ideas (he seems to think that certain races are more civilisationally developed than others) that different ‘races’ have different ‘characteristics’.

      the man’s clearly a ‘group-ist’ - but we can see that from his politics anyway.

    31. sonia — on 27th April, 2009 at 2:20 pm  

      but then most americans are aren’t they - groupist. it seems to be okay to be groupist if its some sort of group not based on ‘race’ - don’t know why, that sort of boundary thinking is what led to ‘races’ emerging anyway! all this focus on skin colour is really limited thinking - and dangerous when that is the only kind of ‘groupism’ and discrimination we notice - there are other forms of social discrimination!

      like ‘nations’ thinking they are a better/superior than other ‘nations’ and acting accordingly (whether using an alleged liberation argument or not, the implication is WE know better) and that is just as offensive when the ‘WE’ is defined by some other tight group rather than just ‘race’ skin colour.

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