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Intellectual Radioactivity: How Science Documentaries are Used to Pervert the Course of Science and Advance Political Aims, Part 1 

Alex Kurtagic 

November 7, 2009 

When I learned that Channel 4 intended to air a documentary program featuring Professors Richard Lynn and J. Philippe Rushton, I marked my calendar. The program in question — Race and Intelligence: Science’s Last Taboo — interested me, not so much because I was expecting it to be educational in any scientific sense (I am familiar with Lynn’s and Rushton’s work already), but because I was morbidly curious as to how Britain’s most liberal television channel would once again pervert the course of science in relation to race differences in IQ. This is, after all, the egalitarians’ least favorite topic and one they do not ordinarily deign to discuss.

That the show was not exactly going to be a study in journalistic balance and impartiality was anticipated not just from the fact that it was to be spewed by Channel 4, but also from the fact that it was going to be presented by Mogadishu-born Rageh Omaar, a Black man, who is in an inter-racial marriage with three mixed race children. Omaar once referred to the BBC as “a White man’s club,” despite the corporation having been for some time in the hands of a virulently PC clique with an apoplectic hatred for its White audience. Thus, the program was inevitably going to offer a perspective some billions of light-years left of Trotsky, with a redshift value in the quinquagintaquadringentillion range.

Rageh Omaar

On the appointed day, the program began in line with expectations, with Omaar dumping several metric tons of mind-bending verbiage, calculated to frighten, close, and hermetically seal any open minds in the audience. Omaar’s initial remarks leave no question as to how the audience is expected to feel (italics are Omaar’s emphases):

I am setting out on a journey into dangerous territory — not a physical place, but an idea. At its heart it’s a question so radioactive, that it’s only usually raised in public by political extremists. And the question is: Is there a racial pecking order in intelligence, in which black people are less clever than white people. It seems unbelievable to be asking it in the twenty-first century, and yet it is a question that finds its way into lecture halls and scientific literature. I have a vested interest in the answer, as a black man with children growing up in a diverse society. But as I’ve gone on this journey there’ve been many people that have told me that I shouldn’t be asking this question at all [frown]. Unfortunately, there’s a problem: there is some research that points to what has been called a race gap in some measures of intelligence. Does this race gap really exist? I’d like to reclaim this question from the wild margins. To examine the actual evidence, and discover… the truth about race and intelligence.

Right from the start we are told that we ought to fear the idea, because it is harmful to our health and socially unacceptable. Moreover, instead of framing the idea in its proper scientific context, he immediately moralizes and politicizes it by framing it in a political context, whereby the idea is obliquely (but just as quickly) linked to Nazis. Not satisfied, Omaar then polarizes the issue by making it about Whites versus Blacks, when anybody who has read the research on race differences in IQ knows that there are several other racial groups, with IQ averages raging from above the White norm to below the Black norm, with several levels in between.

He then uses heavily loaded language, such as the trivializing term ‘pecking order’ (instead of ‘hierarchy’), to imply that the idea applies to lower species in the animal kingdom and not to humans; — and such as the negative “finds its way” (instead of “is discussed”), to imply that this idea is meant to be kept contained, and is equipped with an insidious life or property of its own, like ants or mold, with a will to go to places where it does not belong. (Notice the word ‘False’, taken from a multiple-choice IQ test, zoomed in at this point in the film.)

He uses the tired old liberal cliché of referring to our present century, to imply that the idea belongs to some century in the past — that it is retarded and rubbish and we ought to have binned it a long time ago. And he then drags his own offspring into the question, suggesting that the idea is something we need to keep away from children, like rat poison, pedophiles, or pornography. In so doing, he casts himself flatteringly in the persona of the responsible parent and courageous journalist, plunging into the wild in search of ‘the truth’ — a clear call for sympathy and goodwill, which is calculatingly reinforced by his partial admission of bias.

The front-loading does not end there: as he states the documentary’s putative research problem, Omaar chokes his sentence with qualifiers designed to obliquely discredit, in advance, the existing data on race and IQ: It is, “some research,” “some measures,” and what “has been called” (obviously, by some people) a “race gap”; it is not simply ‘research’, ‘IQ’, and ‘racial differences’. There is no need to put ‘some’ in front of ‘research’; and ‘some measures of intelligence’ means, in fact, IQ, which is the crux of the matter, since the question has arisen from IQ tests — from tests designed to measure a narrowly-defined property of the human brain (e.g., cognitive ability) and not from tests designed to measure ‘social intelligence’, ‘emotional intelligence’, or any other type of ‘intelligence’ from popular culture, let alone a person’s worth as a human being.

The implication that the likes of Lynn and Rushton bluntly conflate intelligence and worth persists throughout the program, where neither of the two scientists is invited, or given space, to pronounce themselves on the issue. This is a grave omission, which betrays to what degree Omaar is not really interested in discovering the truth: He is only interested in confirming his own liberal prejudices and scaring people off from further investigation.

Potted History

All of the above takes place within the first 90 seconds — and this is a 63-minute film! Omaar then pretends to give us a short history of race and IQ. But what he does is name four different scientists and juxtapose each of them to statements they once made that shock egalitarians (as is the case with Lewis Terman) and / or which, in their day, resulted in noisy controversy (as was the case with William Shockley, Charles Murray, and James Watson). True to form, Omaar vacuum-packs his sentences with negative diction; against old, black and white footage of segregated black schoolchildren, he sets the scene:

Every decade or so this toxic issue rears its ugly head, only to be swept under the carpet. And it would be easy to leave it there and dismiss it as bad science, but some of it has come from brilliant scientists.

He then makes a factual error, telling us Lewis Terman invented the term IQ in 1916, when the term was, in fact, invented by German psychologist William Stern in 1912. What Lewis Terman invented was the Stanford-Binet IQ test, based on the previous work of Alfred Binet.

We of course hear nothing of substance from Shockley and Murray, who is not named: Murray is shown simply stating that there are racial differences in IQ, and Shockley is shown juxtaposed to angry protestors and then defending himself against charges of racism in front of a squirming journalist before disappearing into the night inside a police car. Egregiously, Shockley is said to have called for the sterilization of Black women, when, in reality, his proposal was to pay people (of any race) with low IQ to undergo voluntary sterilization. Omaar rounds up his ‘history’ with Watson’s so-called ‘off-the-cuff remarks’ from 2007 about low Black IQs; quoting them before stating that the fierce response compelled him to apologize.

Needless to say, Omaar omits to tell us how these scientists arrived at their conclusions: he makes no mention of any study or body of data. He sweeps that under the carpet, and leaves it there, having dismissed it in advance as bad science.  

Modern Heretic No. 1: Richard Lynn

Omaar tells us that James Watson initially agreed to appear on the program to provide frank answers about his “infamous” remarks, but that he subsequently declined after consulting with his advisors and academic patrons. This suggests that Watson’s apology was never sincere, for, if he had really changed his mind — if he had indeed realized that his stated conclusions were wrong, the interview would have gone ahead. It is telling that later on Omaar informs us that “many” scientists had refused to be interviewed, “fearing a backlash.” Obviously they also knew themselves to be heretics, and thought it better to remain hidden in the academic catacombs.

IQ and the Wealth of Nations

Watson apparently informed Omaar that his remarks had come after reading a book by Professor Richard Lynn. Omaar is shown sitting in a train on his way to meet the “highly controversial” academic — modern heretic #1 in the film. We see Omaar at a table with a copy of Lynn’s The Global Bell Curve: Race, IQ, and Inequality, energetically highlighting, circling, and underlining passages from an interview granted by Lynn to The Occidental Quarterly (TOQ). Neither Lynn’s book nor TOQ are named.

Omaar asks here a rhetorical question: “Is he just a scientist brave enough to say something no one else will, or… is he just beyond the pale?” One asks oneself what being beyond the pale has anything to do with having solid data, making reasonable assumptions, and reaching logical, reliable, and testable conclusions. Yet, as is clear in his remarks following, Omaar is not really trying to discover the answer. Rather, he is confronting Lynn and possibly trying to expose him as a forger with a racist agenda.

I mean, just reading through some of my notes on him is startling and shocking… For example, when asked what was the biggest problem facing Western societies he said “The single most important issue is the increase in immigration of low-IQ Third World people into the United States, Canada, and Europe.”

 I am gonna go and talk to him and ask him if he really, genuinely believes that and why.

Omaar cannot believe that an honest scientist could possibly reach Lynn’s conclusions.

The original interview with Lynn ran for two to three hours, but the footage that made it into the program lasts approximately two minutes, and focuses on what Omaar calls the racial IQ “league tables.” Lynn appears calm and understated, but Omaar is clearly uncomfortable: his body language is defensive, he squirms, he sighs, and his visage is creased and suspicious; moreover, he gesticulates rather aggressively, and stares at Lynn with obvious incredulity.

The experience so rattles Omaar that afterwards he repairs to a café to reflect on his emotions. He tells us that he found Lynn’s replies “shocking” and “scarcely believable,” and then goes on to compare the experience to those he has had as a BBC foreign correspondent facing “militia leaders, dictators, and war criminals” who had said “far more outrageous and unspeakable things.” He confesses to finding Lynn particularly troublesome because when Lynn and other scientists “say the things they say,” they are talking about him. Yet Omaar also feels compelled to listen to Lynn in order to understand why they ‘believe’ as they do.

Notice how Lynn is misrepresented as a scientist who holds beliefs, rather than defends conclusions; and as someone who is comparable to violent murderers and oppressors of people, who says outrageous and unspeakable things, even if militia leaders, dictators, and war criminals have said things to Omaar that are more outrageous and unspeakable. While one can understand that Omaar may not like Lynn's data, it is shocking for him as a supposedly objective journalist so obviously to make the issue not about the data but about Lynn. The low IQ scores found in sub-Saharan populations is not something that Lynn did to them, and neither is it something about which Lynn finds reason to rejoice: Lynn's thesis is that IQ impacts on ability to generate wealth and maintain a technological civilization, so the growth of low IQ populations is a matter of concern. Rather than blame the messenger, however, Omaar should applaud him for bringing the issue to light, as, without knowledge of it, the issue cannot be properly addressed.

White Supremacy

The segment with Lynn and ensuing reflections is followed by another link to Nazis. Omaar states that he feels it necessary to confront the data, lest they be hijacked by political extremists. Meanwhile, we are treated to scenes of riots and BNP parades from decades ago, held by tattooed skinheads. This is akin to interviewing John Webster (Professor Emeritus of Animal Husbandry) and juxtaposing a discussion of the implications of his findings on cow psychology with footage of violent Animal Liberation Front terrorists. The fact that groups of fanatical activists may use scientific findings to bolster a particular political position does not invalidate the findings themselves. This is a non sequitur — and a veiled form of slander.

Seeking solace, Omaar runs to William ‘Lez’ Henry, a Jamaican-descended Black anthropologist, musician, and educator, who opines

for me, people never challenge these “intellectuals” [notice the pejorative quotation marks] on the merits of their own science. Why are we having these arguments? Probably because the stuff that can counter it, the information that can counter, this pernicious way of thinking is always hidden. [grins]

Always hidden? Hidden where? How? The allegation goes without challenge or further investigation.

As to Henry’s credentials, he is not an expert in IQ, and therefore lacks qualifications to evaluate Lynn’s data. His contribution to the debate consists of speculation on possible scientific incompetence or self-serving motives. As the author of Whiteness Made Simple: Stepping into the Grey Zone, an Afrocentric monograph that links whiteness with privilege and attempts to analyze how what he regards as the white supremacy of white societies is normalized into invisibility, his function in the program is to further foment skepticism in the minds of the viewers, and encourage them to think the worst. 

Go to Part 2 of this article.

 

Alex Kurtagic (email him) was born in 1970. He is the author of Mister (published by Iron Sky Publishing, 2009) and the founder and director of Supernal Music.

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