Omaar is next shown at his dining room table, surrounded by books and printouts, deep in study. Referring to the link between IQ and race, he states:
This area is a minefield. Key parts of the research quoted by Richard Lynn, for example, have been fiercely disputed by other academics, claiming it is biased and based on tiny, outdated sample sizes. Some have dismissed it as virtually meaningless.
Unfortunately for Omaar, he finds that he cannot dismiss all IQ tests, and that those he cannot dismiss still show a gap in IQ between races: In a normal distribution graph, the Black bell curve peaks lower at 85, the White bell curve peaks higher at 100, and the East Asian bell curve peaks even higher at 105. (He does not mention that standard deviations for Blacks are also shorter, at 12 points, as opposed to 15, as is the case with Whites and East Asians. Neither does he tell us — as Lynn does earlier in the film — that Black IQs of 85 are from samples of Blacks living in Western countries, where they have enjoyed better nutrition and education than in Sub-Saharan Africa, where IQs average 70.)
Omaar, the journalist with a bachelor’s degree in Modern History, decides to investigate what professors of psychology have found on whether this gap is real or the result of biased tests that favor some races over others. Thus, we see Omaar meet with Vivian Hill from the Institute of Education in London in order to experience IQ testing. This is good journalism for once: One must always test one’s assumptions, and whenever possible report from first-hand experience.
Omaar does not submit to a full, formal IQ test, however, but simply attempts to solve a few sample problems. As expected, he is able to answer knowledge-based questions, but finds he cannot do the problems dealing with visuo-spatial reasoning. The latter are strongly linked to the g factor of general intelligence, while tests of knowledge are weakly linked to general intelligence.
Therefore, visuo-spatial tests are more accurate tests of cognitive ability than the knowledge-based questions, which simply test ability to memorize and retrieve information, and are, consequently, more culturally biased.
This is one of the most amusing segments in the program, for if Omaar was hoping to find that the race gap in IQ scores was the result of cultural bias in testing, his performance proves consistent with data that refute this argument: Blacks have tended to do better with culturally biased IQ tests.
This segment also undermines the case that Omaar spends much of the rest of the film attempting to make — that IQ is environmentally determined, the product of hard work and middle class values. He confesses to being unable to do the (g-loaded) visuo-spatial problems, despite coming from a comfortable middle class background and possessing a university degree. This is, of course, later on conveniently forgotten.
We are next told that to understand the debate on race and intelligence, we need to look at the history of IQ testing. It is, therefore, time for another potted history.
We are told that Alfred Binet invented the IQ test in 1904 in order to identify children in need of remedial education. However, once it was translated into English, it started being used to discourage the breeding of the feeble-minded, thus taking on a central role in the then emergent eugenics movement.
A classic depiction of eugenics as an interdisciplinary science
Of course, Omaar’s potted history does not extend to even a mention of the arguments in favor of eugenics, even though this is essential for a proper understanding of the history of IQ testing.
Instead, Omaar veers into shockumentary territory, telling us about how American psychologist Henry H. Goddard proposed a system of classification for the feeble-minded, whom he divided into morons, imbeciles, and idiots. These terms are shown against a Black background, with the letters partially fading in and out of view, as ripples of light and dark brown course through the words, creating a rather ominous effect. The terms are also given in the wrong order, and Omaar makes another factual error in telling us that moron was a category between normal and idiot, when it was, in fact, between normal and imbecile.
Omaar knows that Goddard’s terminology will horrify modern sensibilities, and, predictably, he fails to clarify that modern usage of the individual terms differs at times considerably from their usage a century ago. ‘Moron’, for example, from the Greek moros (‘dull’) is nowadays a slang term for a stupid person, but it was originally a term used only in psychology to refer to adults with a mental age of 8-12.
As night follows day, Omaar tells us how in the United States, between the 1920s and the 1940s, 30 states ‘passed laws permitting the enforced sterilization of individuals defined by IQ tests as subnormal’, and that ‘these laws were not repealed until the 1970s’. Omaar omits to mention that these laws were primarily aimed at those unable to function socially due to mental retardation or insanity. The way it is presented, particularly after we are shown the articulate, urbane, middle class, hard-working, Oxford-educated, and professionally successful Omaar doing badly on an IQ test, is subtly but all the same vertiginously skewed — tacitly but ominously suggesting that in the 1930s, people like him would have been dragged kicking and screaming down a hospital corridor, strapped down to an operating table, and surgically castrated on account of a racially biased IQ test score.
Never mind that the purpose of eugenic laws was humane: No one, after all, would wish to have been born criminally insane or with a profound mental impairment, condemned to a life of dependency and institutionalized containment; no one, except the most sadistic or vengeful, would wish such a fate on another; and no one, except criminally insane liberals and the morbidly curious, would think that the breeding of profoundly defective individuals adds value to a society.
The entire section, therefore, offers a very incomplete and unbalanced overview of eugenics. Omaar focuses entirely on negative eugenics (e.g., the effort to reduce dullness, illness, criminality, and deformity), but says nothing aboutpositive eugenics (e.g., the effort to increase intelligence, health, moral capacity, and physical fitness). Omaar also forgets or ignores the fact that eugenics goes back as far as Plato, and that it is still practiced today: The discovery of a congenital defect during pre-natal screening results in the patient being offered the option to terminate the pregnancy.
The skewing or representation continues, approaching the vertical, as Omaar lectures:
The truth about IQ is that it’s history is truly shocking. And so unsurprisingly modern IQ tests remain highly controversial. Besides, can intelligence really be measured in a single number? It doesn’t seem to measure wisdom, social intelligence, creativity, or musical ability. And it’s still open to the charge of cultural bias.
This is, of course, willful ignorance. As stated previously, the scope of IQ tests is very narrow, as they are designed to measure only one faculty of the human brain. Its purpose is not to measure wisdom, social intelligence, creativity, or musical ability. Nor, by extension — because this is what Omaar is alluding to — measure one’s worth as a human being. There have been, for example, highly gifted individuals who were thoroughly evil.
Moreover, Omaar does not explain how IQ testing can still be open to the ‘charge’ (not the ‘criticism’) of cultural bias, when his own personal experience has shown him that cultural biased tests are easier than culturally neutral ones. In persisting with the accusation of cultural bias, despite first-hand experience to the contrary, Omaar shows that the liberal brain is coated in Teflon.
And, for many people, that’s where the argument ends — with IQ discredited. Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Because there is some evidence that IQ correlates with success in life. Which means this subject matter has real consequences for real people, right now.
Again we encounter negative diction, further confirming that Omaar’s dislike of IQ tests is based on ideology and a need for self-esteem, not on an objective examination of the evidence. Omaar could just as well have qualified the correlation as fortunate, since a test that can predict success in life is clearly useful — particularly, as Omaar acknowledges (and as Herrnstein and Murray argued in The Bell Curve), because it has policy implications that affect people in real life.
Public policy implications of IQ in America: The figure shows what happens if you have two IQ distributions that differ by a standard deviation — Whites on top, Blacks on the bottom. If the test is made so that 50% of Whites pass, then 16% of Blacks will pass. This would mean that if we consider a population of 1000 people taking the test in a population that is 10% Black and 90% White, then 16 Blacks would qualify, compared to 450 Whites—a ratio of around 28 to 1 — much higher than the population ratio of 9 to 1. If the test is more difficult so that 16% of Whites pass, then only 2% of Blacks would pass, resulting in a White/Black ratio of around 72 to 1. As Richard Hoste points out, at very elite levels, Blacks would be vanishingly rare if their status was based only on test performance.
Our next destination is the University of California–Berkeley — the most prestigious public university in the US. It is here that Omaar adopts a change of tactics, shifting from simple attempts to malign, discredit, and dismiss data showing race differences in IQ to attempts at offering egalitarian-friendly (i.e., environmentalist) explanations for them.
He informs us of a change in Berkeley’s admissions policy, instituted in 1997, whereby admissions were henceforth determined almost exclusively by SAT scores (“close cousins of IQ tests”). The selection process was “colour blind,” resulting in a massive over-representation of East Asians and Asian Americans, matched by a massive under-representation of African Americans. He comments:
For those who think like Richard Lynn, Berkeley provides some evidence that some races are born cleverer than others. But does it? We now enter the heart of the intelligence debate. Is it your genes or your upbringing that determines your intelligence? There is strong evidence that DNA does play an important part in intelligence. Scientists know this from studies of identical twins, particularly those separated at birth, who have the same DNA but a different upbringing.
I was glad to find mention of these twin studies, but, unfortunately, this is done very peremptorily, and various tactics are deployed to obscure their importance. Omaar, for example, does not tells us that twin studies have shown that the IQs of twins reared apart are virtually unaffected by their upbringing, save in cases of extreme deprivation. But he does note that “when they are reunited, they are shocked by how much they have in common.” Unfortunately, the accompanying footage further de-emphasizes similarities in IQ, distracting the viewer by spending most of the time on similarities in hand-writing, sending the same birthday cards, and buying the same clothes.
Having lined up the evidential bowling pins, Omaar proceeds to knock them down. He states:
From twin studies like these, it seems the genes you inherit have a substantial influence on how intelligent you are. But does that mean that differences in IQ scores between races are also genetic? Other scientists have a completely different way of looking at exactly the same data.
What follows masquerades as a refutation of Lynn’s conclusions while being, in fact, simple contradiction.
First, we are presented with social psychologist Richard Nisbett, author of the recent Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count. Omaar says:
Richard Nisbett … believes that the goal of educational success [among East Asians] is deep rooted and centuries old.
Nisbett then continues:
The Asians who do well in this country who came [to America] prior to the immigration law changes in the 1960s … capitalized on the IQ that they had to a much greater extent than the White population. Which is a reflection both of IQ-type intellectual skills and hard work. If you know about those Confucian cultures it is not surprising that they would have such an ability to capitalize on whatever talent they had.
This is Omaar’s cue to educate us about Confucius, and the value he placed “on selfless hard work and betterment through education.”
The most interesting aspect of these assertions is that none refute Lynn. Earlier in the program Lynn told us that Blacks who had settled in the West, particularly after several generations, registered gains in IQ, thanks to improved nutrition and education. Therefore, Lynn’s conclusions with regards to Blacks are identical to Nisbett’s conclusions with regard to East Asians: Both, not just Nisbett, accept that environment plays a role in determining IQ.
Where Lynn differs is in that he assigns a substantial role to heredity not only in determining IQ, but also in causing racial differences. Nisbett, on the other hand, thinks that IQ is mostly the result of environmental differences and that racial differences in IQ are entirely the result of environmental differences..
The likes of Lynn have been unjustly branded exponents of evolutionary fundamentalism — in other words, extremists. I contend that the only extremists are the likes of Nisbett, who can be justly branded exponents of environmentalist fundamentalism.
Go to Part 3 of this article.