Race and Intelligence: Is There a Link? DNA pioneer James Watson caused a furor recently after saying Africans were intellectually inferior to Westerners. Like Watson, Phil Rushton — a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario — says people of African descent have a lower IQ and smaller brain size.
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Race and Intelligence: Is There a Link?

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Race and Intelligence: Is There a Link?

Race and Intelligence: Is There a Link?

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For NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Last week, DNA pioneer James Watson made the papers but not for his Nobel Prize-winning work. In an interview with a London newspaper, he implied that because of genetic differences, black people were less intelligent than whites. Since that time, Dr. Watson has apologized, but there's been a long and bitter debate over race and intelligence for centuries.

Soon, we'll hear from an author who thinks that science has been misused when it comes to race and intelligence.

But first, we have Phil Rushton. He's a professor of psychology at the University of Western Ontario. He's also the head of the Pioneer group which researches intelligence and group differences. Welcome.

Dr. PHIL RUSHTON (Professor, Psychology, University of Western Ontario): Oh, thank you. Hello.

CHIDEYA: So do you think that Dr. Watson is sorry for his remarks? Why or why not?

Dr. RUSHTON: Well, I think he's sorry because he hurts people feelings and because of the negative consequences. I doubt very much that he disagrees with the facts of the matter, which is that, for a hundred years, I.Q. tests have shown that Africans do score below white people, and this has been very consistent regardless of which country or even which continent you take the measures. So it's very consistent. It doesn't matter whether you go to East, West or South Africa; or whether you come here to the United States or Canada; or if you go to the Caribbean like Jamaica and Haiti; or even down to South America like Brazil, the results are very clear that there's a 15- to 30-point I.Q. difference between blacks and whites.

CHIDEYA: Just in brief, can I ask you…

Dr. RUSHTON: Really, that's not controversial. What's controversial is why are they there. So that…

CHIDEYA: Very briefly define intelligence by your measures and how do you measure it?

Dr. RUSHTON: Well, there's almost a hundred different ways of measuring it, and they all kind of converge on the same conclusion, which is that there's a general factor. So it doesn't matter which tests you really use, they will tap into, either to a small extent or to a large extent, this general underlying factor called general intelligence.

CHIDEYA: Now, you've written books including "Race, Evolution and Behavior," which says, in part, that brain weight and penis size are linked. You told Rolling Stone magazine that, quote, "It's a tradeoff - more brains or more penis; you can't have everything." Now, how did you even decide to study this, and why do you think it's relevant?

Dr. RUSHTON: Well, it's not, of course, and that's a total misquote, a conflation of different things, hundreds of pages separate in a book. There is a relationship…

CHIDEYA: So that was a quote, though, that Rolling Stone said that you said. Is that accurate or inaccurate?

Dr. RUSHTON: No, it's inaccurate. What I said was that there's a relationship between brain size and I.Q. on the one hand, and that Africans do have a lower I.Q. and a slightly smaller average brain size. And this can be established using magnetic resonance imaging. It can be established using autopsies, skull measurements, external head size measurements. This data, too, is very convergent although, of course, it's very unacceptable and makes people unhappy. It's very unpopular, let's put it that way.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me go to a widely used medical textbook called "Neuroscience." It has several authors, and it says - I'm quoting here - "any program that seeks to relate brain weight, cranial capacity or some other measure of overall brain size to individual performance ignores the reality of the brain's functional diversity." How do you respond to that?

Dr. RUSHTON: Oh, it's absolute nonsense. I mean, you can go to almost any neuroscience journal today and you'll find it full of neuroscience studies looking at brain function and human performance including general intelligence. There's a .4 correlation between general intelligence and overall brain size using magnetic resonance imaging. That's very well established. It's even been published in "Science" just last year, so it's not even controversial. Although what's controversial, as I keep trying to get to, is whether these differences are genetic or cultural. But the fact that the difference is there…

CHIDEYA: What do you believe on that point?

Dr. RUSHTON: Personally, I believe that the evidence shows it's 50 percent genetic and 50 percent cultural, and that's a minority perspective within psychology, but it's a substantial minority perspective. There's an awful lot of people who feel like Jim Watson, and myself, and Arthur Jensen, and Richard Lynn, and Richard Hernstein, and Charles Murray, Linda Gottfredson, dozens of us who believe that. And in fact, right at the moment, we're trying to write an editorial to maybe publish in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal just to get this particular side of the scientific debate out into the open. I know it's unpopular, but that's what the results seem to show.

CHIDEYA: Now, your organization, the Pioneer Fund, helped fund "The Bell Curve"…

Dr. RUSHTON: No, we didn't.

CHIDEYA: Oh, I'm sorry, sir.

Dr. RUSHTON: No, we didn't.

CHIDEYA: I'm sorry. Let me ask you, you do fund research, and if someone approached you with a research project and it said, okay, well, we see no difference between races and intelligence, would you fund that work or do you only fund work that fits your personal point of view?

Dr. RUSHTON: No, what we want is somebody who will say, look, we noticed the differences are there, but we think that's it's due to, say, nutrition. And if we can put in a study that will look at nutritional factors, then - to find out whether nutrition does or does not have the effect, then of course, we'd fund it.

In fact, we tried to two or maybe three different times and it keeps getting shut down by medical ethics approval places that says, oh, no, you can't do this study because it presupposes that there's a difference between blacks and whites in I.Q. to begin with. Well, of course there is, but people don't even want to allow that to be put on the table to see whether it could be made to disappear looking at something like environmental nutritional factors.

CHIDEYA: Well, professor, thank you for joining us.

Dr. RUSHTON: My pleasure. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Phil Rushton is the head of the Pioneer group, which funds studies on behavioral genetics, intelligence and group difference.

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