Richard Lynn (left) and J. Philippe Rushton
In case the scientific arguments are too esoteric, Omaar travels to South Africa, in an effort to appeal to our emotions. Walking in a dense maze of grim and filthy shacks of corrugated iron, he tells us that concluding that race and intelligence are biologically determined leads to Apartheid, and to the dreams of potential leading astronomers being crushed by a system that would condemn them to a life of poverty and illiteracy in squalid townships.
Soweto, South Africa. If Omaar is to be believed, Lynn and Rushton’s data lead straight to this.
This is both a straw man argument and a variant of the silly argumentum ad Hitlerum, designed to frighten people off from having an honest discussion about race and intelligence. As such, the deployment of such an argument here constitutes proof of the existence of a motivation to bias a documentary film such as this one, not proof of the non-existence of a biological basis for race and intelligence.
Omaar also tells us that since the dismantlement of Apartheid, the field of medicine has filled with Black students. Omaar does not include in his narrative any mention of the affirmative action policies introduced by the Mandela government; nor of the fact that the country has seen an exodus of Whites, who feel increasingly unsafe in Black-run South Africa — both of these factors, not just the end of Apartheid, may have noticeably contributed to this changing demographic. Neither does Omaar include in his narrative any mention of theviolent discontent among township Blacks in the country at the lack of delivery from the ANC after nearly 15 years of power — at the corruption and nepotism that keep them, even now, without running water and electricity. Interestingly, Omaar finds that despite the high influx of Blacks at undergraduate level, this is not maintained at the higher-IQ postgraduate level.
If Omaar succeeds in making a point here, it will be only among the most superficial, conformist, and sentimental members of his audience. The implications he makes are false: Firstly, neither Lynn nor Rushton propose a nature-only model for understanding race differences in IQ — they propose anature + nurture model. Secondly, a frank discussion about race differences in IQ does not necessarily and automatically lead to Apartheid — it can just as well lead to greater tolerance and understanding of different cultures and lifestyles. And thirdly, a nature + nurture model does not deny the possibility of high-IQ Blacks, nor of IQ gains among Black populations through improved environment — it only argues that the genetic potential for IQ is not identical in all populations and that gains from better environments may not be equal in all populations. Finally, improved environment will not necessarily and automatically cause all populations to develop Western-style societies. This is a liberal myth, the product of a Eurocentric, egalitarian mentality that does not admit or tolerate difference of any kind.
On the whole, therefore, this segment in the film is irrelevant.
“Taking Off Like Crazy”
The ensuing segment is highly relevant, however, for it appears to refute Rushton’s position that humans are, on average, born with a genetic potential for a given brain size. Omaar’s voice, intoning with great reverence over images of an elderly gentleman on his morning jog, introduces Professor James Flynn as a“a moral philosopher, who has long been a civil rights campaigner.”
Flynn is known for drawing attention to a long-term increase in IQ scores around the world, a phenomenon that was referred to by the authors of The Bell Curveas the Flynn Effect. Flynn says:
All throughout the twentieth century, we can trace that each generation is scoring higher than its predecessor. That is, the average person on Raven’s [Progressive Matrices] today is 100. The average person in 1900 scored against current norms would have been somewhere between 50 and 70.
Omaar continues, telling us how Flynn’s research uncovered an increase in IQ of 3 points per decade, with an even faster increase for Black Americans. In dramatic tones, he adds “The IQ gap between Blacks and Whites wasactually closing.” According to Flynn, Blacks have been gaining 4.45 points a decade since World War II — a rate of gain 50% faster than Whites. Flynn asks“Does that prove that the difference in IQ isn’t genetic? Well, it certainly shows that differences as great as the IQ gap can be closed environmentally.”
Clearly, although Flynn places great hope in the environment for improving Black IQ, he does not rule out in advance that race differences in IQ may be genetic.Flynn’s explanation is not that we are smarter and our ancestors dumber, but that we have learned to think in abstract categories. As Omaar expresses it, “Our great-grand parents learned to manipulate the world practically, but we have learnt to classify it intellectually.” Summarizing Flynn’s theory, he explains that since World War II, there has been a “cognitive revolution,” whereby science and technology have forced us to think conceptually, in abstract terms, and to “view the world through scientific spectacles.” And since abstract reasoning is what is needed to perform well in an IQ test, IQ tests ‘don’t give a score for intelligence as such, but our adaptation to modernity’.
Flynn asserts in the film that the low scores in tropical Africa and even Northern Africa are due to their being “on the cusp of modernity”; that IQ scores in the region are “taking off like crazy”; and that “over the next century we may well see the developing world match the developed world for IQ.“
This is where the segment ends, leaving viewers with the impression that Rushton has no answer to Flynn’s evidence. In fact, Rushton and Arthur Jensen, Professor Emeritus of educational psychology at the University of California–Berkeley, have addressed the issue in a forthcoming paper entitled “Race and IQ: A Theory-Based Review of the Research in Richard Nisbett’s Intelligence and How to Get It.” Nisbett’s book is the most comprehensive treatment of the Flynn Effect, and builds on Flynn’s previous books on the topic.
Flynn’s thesis is that secular gains in IQ scores imply that improving environment must in time close the race gap in IQ. Yet, much is made earlier in the film about IQ tests being culturally biased, an allegation that was not reflected by Omaar’s personal experience: Earlier in the film, and consistent with Rushton’s and Jensen’s data, we saw the Oxford-educated journalist finding culturally biased test problems easier that culturally neutral ones, such as those involving visuo-spatial ability and abstract reasoning. This is because the latter are more heavilyg-loaded — g being, according to Jensen, the “active ingredient“ of IQ scores, since it refers to the processes that underlie performance on all mental tests. Psychological research supports the idea that the mechanisms underlying grelate to the speed and efficiency of mental processing.
Not all IQ tests have equal g-loading, of course, and this represents one of the main difficulties in accurately evaluating to what degree IQ tests measure general intelligence (g). Rushton and Jenson point out that Charles Spearman, the man who discovered g, conjectured that Black-White differences would be “most marked in just those [tests] which are known to be saturated with g.” Jensen later referred to this as “Spearman’s hypothesis.”
Subsequent testing by Jensen and Rushton, using data from multiple tests and large samples, has shown an inverse correlation between g-loading and the Flynn Effect, with the race gap being most persistent in the most heavily g-loaded tests.
This suggests that the Flynn Effect is not all that meaningful: Since Blacks tend to do better in the parts of IQ tests that are least g-loaded, this will account for their faster rate of gain over time in average IQ scores.
Although he has researched intelligence, Flynn is not formally a scientist. He is currently a professor of Political Studies at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He has a long history of campaigning for Left-wing causes, and was a founding member of two of New Zealand’s Left-wing political parties (the New Labour Party, and Alliance). He has even stood for parliament on a number of occasions, and advised Labour Prime Minister Norman Kirk on foreign policy. Clearly, his views on race and intelligence fit well with his political views.
More importantly, it is fair to ask oneself why Omaar accepts Flynn’s theories regarding race and intelligence given that he does not think that IQ tests are valid. Omaar’s thesis throughout the program has been that IQ tests are not a valid method of measuring intelligence. If that is the case, then why should we listen to Flynn at all? And if that is not the case, then why should we not listen to Lynn and Rushton? Logic is not one of the film’s strong points.
Brave New World
Another irrelevant segment follows the Flynn segment. Omaar takes us to Hostos Lincoln Academy in the South Bronx, one of the grimmest districts in America, in an effort to see how the Flynn Effect benefits Black students. We find that the school’s Principal maximizes cultural experience through exposing students to theater, and that the graduation rate is, according to him, 90%, versus the city’s average of 55%.
Other than that, there are numerous scenes of students in classrooms and an interview with one of them, none of which sheds new light on the topic of this documentary. Of course, with adequate supervision, focus, and competent training, it is possible to improve the academic performance even in deprived neighborhoods.
But in this case, we simply do not know key relevant facts. We are not told whether the students filmed in this documentary are representative of the district’s average student or a selection of the brightest ones. And we do not know what the standards for graduation are, nor how the top pupils in that high school compare to the top pupils of other high schools. Needless to say that we are not shown their IQ scores or their subsequent SAT scores, nor the criterion by which some of these students secure a place in elite universities, as Omaar claims. The latter is important to know in a context where universities have affirmative action policies in place.
The final segment immediately follows, with Omaar rounding it all up with a statement of his pre-existing environmentalist beliefs, a dismissal of contradictory data, and a call for a change in the culture and for improving opportunities for Blacks. He concludes his monologue by stating “I am optimistic that change may at last be on its way,” before giving way to footage of U.S. president Barack Obama, delivering a predictable speech about his desire for Black scientists and Supreme Court Justices. Obama’s voice gradually becomes heavily reverberated and is engulfed by the cheers of a rapturous crowd as the screen fades to black and the credits make their run, accompanied by sedate, inspiring music.
My problem with this documentary is not that it is somehow unusual. Rather, my problem is that there is nothing unusual about it. While it is salient in that it purports to tackle an issue that the Left would rather not be discussed at all, and even goes as far as to include credible dissenting voices, its purpose is to simply confirm egalitarians in the correctness of their dogmas and foment conformity among uneducated and apolitical bystanders.
Rather than a science documentary, the film can more accurately be described as a televised sermon that masquerades as science. Its power lies in the ease and the speed with which it can transfer large amounts of information to a passive audience while effectively concealing both the quantity and the quality of that information.
By the time the film is over, viewers have likely already moved on to the next program, or else have gone on to do other things. Unraveling an hour-long documentary demands considerable time and effort, as well expertise on a number of different fields, besides that pertaining to the topic discussed in the film. One must not only understand the science, but one must also be educated in politics and culture, have experience in video production and post-production, and be proficient in semiotic and discourse analysis, as well as have the resources to be able to pursue a meaningful investigation.
Ordinary viewers, lacking all this, will likely watch the film, repeat in conversation whatever they remember the following day, and not think about it twice afterwards. What is more, unless actively interested in the topic, documentaries like this one will be the only source of knowledge for these viewers. Hence the power of television.
My purpose with this article has not been to verify or disprove the data on race and intelligence: My academic training is in lens media and cultural studies, and my professional experience is in popular culture. My purpose here, therefore, has been to provide a perspective on how documentary films serve not to educate, but to miseducate, to mould consciousness and shape attitudes, and thus self-servingly perpetuate establishment cultural values to advance political aims. For the Left, everything is political, and science is just one of the battlegrounds on which they wage their culture war.
Race and Intelligence was structured as an exercise in debunking. Accordingly, heretics were only needed long enough to state their position, so that it could then be contradicted by agreeable scientists. Lynn and Rushton were never allowed to address criticism in the film and the evidence that they have produced in reply to their critics, including Nisbett, Flynn, Rose, and others, was never mentioned.
This evidence, however, is considerable and very detailed. As is usually the case, since Lynn’s and Rushton’s critics fail to refute then, the film aims to create the appearance of a refutation by concealing the absence of one through simple contradiction, omission, and obfuscation. One of their most astonishing tactics, as we have seen, consists of re-stating Lynn’s and Rushton’s findings and repackaged them as a refutation.
Another, of which Nisbett is clearly guilty, is for critics of the nature + nurture proponents to engage in the very same practices that they accuse their proponents of engaging in, including: de-emphasizing or altogether omitting inconvenient data, using unrepresentative samples, and using outdated or methodologically flawed studies. Yet another tactic is to marshal in “experts” from the farthest reaches of the political Left, who are then introduced in either neutral or venerating terms, without inviting any voices from the Right, however moderate.
Finally, there seems to be a tendency in the film to distract with irrelevant information and couch scientific arguments in moral / progressive language, so as to imply that the opposing position is somehow immoral.
While fraud is not out of the question, it is also possible, and indeed probable, that a great deal of self-delusion is involved. There is no doubt that Omaar and the authorities he has marshaled to once again put across the old culturalist argument against race differences in intelligence honestly believe that they represent the side of progress and enlightenment — of what is good and right; and that their opponents represent the side of backwardness and prejudice — of what is wrong and evil.
There is no doubt also that they conceive themselves as engaged in a moral crusade, and that success is so vital for the good of humanity that any and all tactics must be exhausted, including obvious emotional appeals.
To understand the degree to which this is the case, one only needs to look at Steve Jones’ article of 26 October, written for the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph and published on the day Race and Intelligence was due to air. As if to pre-empt open minds in the audience, he chastises
Any link between skin colour and brain power was long ago disproved by science, despite a new outing for the subject on TV tonight. … The program dredges up a number of living fossils —elderly exponents of racial differences — many of whom I thought had passed long ago to the Aryan hunting ground in the sky. … With impressive but misplaced confidence, they roll out a series of hoary, dubious and predictable claims about the abilities of different racial groups; those with lower scores living, oddly enough in the poorest countries with the worst schools.
Never mind that, as Richard Lynn pointed out in a recent email to me, “Since the people of the poorest countries are those with darker skins, and most of them are in sub-Saharan Africa, the last sentence contradicts his initial statement.”
Jones’ sneering language reeks of ideological snobbery, and we see that he is not above dredging up the old canard about nature + nurture proponents being Nazi relics. This is all about positioning — about making people admire one group of scientists and hate the other — all in accordance with political expediency.
The science itself is largely irrelevant, because only a tiny percentage of the population is competent enough to interpret it and understand it. The debate is, therefore, reduced to personality and presentation — to the emotional and pre-rational manipulation of laymen’s attitudes and perceptions.
Jones, a poster-boy of the Left, plays an active media role in this process. In a desperate effort to cast his cause as modern and progressive, for example, Jones makes in the article two disparaging references to the age of all two of his opponents in the film, even though he and all of his comrades are in their same age group: Lynn is 78 and Rushton a youthful 65; Jones is the same age (65, although he looks 75), Nisbett is 61, Rose is 71, and Flynn is 75. With a median age of 68, the Leftist contingent is hardly a paragon of youth. I propose that it istheir ideas that are by now ‘superannuated’ and out of date, and that Lynn and Rushton represent the paradigm of the future, having shown that they have been right all along.
I am not going to pretend that I am impartial; no one capable of forming an opinion really is. Neither am I going to pretend that I have not made a self-conscious use of language in the attempt to generate sympathy for one camp and antipathy for the other. Personally, however, I believe that Omaar and his comrades are deserving of criticism — particularly as otherwise, their filmic and discursive manipulations would go unnoticed and unchallenged.
The fact that we ought not to be surprised that these manipulations occur (particularly in this case), does not excuse us from pointing them out, analyzing them, and discussing them. Given present social, cultural, and demographic trends and given the present political and juridical climate, documentaries likeRace and Intelligence have real implications for European-descended peoples, as egalitarianism usually places the welfare of all peoples at the expense of European man.
Egalitarian Leftists polarize and politically charge the debate about race and intelligence by misrepresenting it as being one about the superiority or inferiority of one race versus another, when, in reality, it ought to be a debate about the uniqueness of each race. In evolutionary terms, each race represents a unique physical and psychological adaptation and, while from within one culture a set of traits may be assigned greater value, from another those same traits could very well be irrelevant.
This does not preclude a certain amount of malleability and responsiveness to environmental factors, and evolutionists do accept this, despite egalitarian Leftists’ tendentious caricatures of evolutionists as rigid biological determinists.
The evolutionary perspective embraces uniqueness and diversity; the egalitarian Leftist, on the other hand, is often disturbed by it and desires homogeneity.
If we are to protect our uniqueness as a race from the homogenizing forces of egalitarianism, we need to systematically expose the pseudoscience peddled by egalitarians in their efforts to add credibility to their wishful thinking. And crucially, we need to systematically expose the methods by which egalitarians manipulate our mass media of news and entertainment in their efforts to pass their wishful thinking as truth.