Saturday, March 22, 2008

Give me a break

Update: The Brawler has apologized and I do too if I was overly sensitive. We're cool.

OK, I admit that I do it. I google myself. It's worse than that. Sometimes, I google myself to see what has come up in the last week or so.

Tonight, while I was hoping that Marquette would solve the Lopez twins ( t'were not to be), I came across the Brew City Brawler (tough guy who won't blog under his own name) relying on an old post of mine to imply that - oh, he doesn't want to say - I'm a racist or "freaky" have "poor judgment" on such matters. Something bad anyway. He is so taken with the idea that he posts on it twice.

I have no idea who this guy is, but he's just a tad slow on the uptake. The post referenced some commentary by Will Saletan at Slate (most definitely not on my team) regarding research on the relationship between things like race and IQ.

My point was that, if you are a materialist who believes that we are the sum of our genes (note to Brawler: us guys on the "religious right" aren't exactly down with that), then there is really no way to exclude that possibility. Scientific truths are always contingent and denouncing people who raise questions seems like a matter of faith.

The obvious point is that we all have scientific questions that make us uncomfortable - and for good reason. I noted the obvious dangers of the view that things like intelligence are not evenly distributed across groups. Williams Jennings Bryan (who actually was, as were many of his day, a racist) objected to evolutionary theory in part because he feared it would lead to Social Darwinism.

I expressly said that I did not know if Saletan was right in suggesting that there may be scientific support for the idea that the distribution of characteristics like a high IQ might differ across racial groups. It's not surprising that I did so because my larger point was that it doesn't matter.

I went on to point out that, even were it proven to be the case that IQ is largely genetic and that genes are not evenly spread among racial groups, it wouldn't mean much. This is where I said that averages apply to groups and not individuals, a concept that the Brawler claims not to understand.

I guess he didn't attend (as I did) St. Sebastian's, because, if he had, he would know that it takes a group to have an average and that the average for the group does not tell you anything about any particular individual within it.

So, I concluded and paraphrase here, even if someone someday were to locate a gene for mathematical brilliance and show that it is disproportionately expressed in Indian males, that wouldn't tell us anything about any individual and could not form the basis for admitting people to grad school in math.

For this, I get smeared by an anonymous blogger who must believe that any libel is justified by the quest for Obama.

Oddly, in his second post, he cuts and pastes from someone he calls the great "Daniel Davies" who makes, essentially, the same point that I did. You can't exclude the possibility of such differences but they are unlikely to matter. I guess Davies hasn't criticized Obama.

Brawler wants to know what I mean by a racial etiquette getting in the way of frank conversations about race. You just provided a perfect example, buddy.


Marcus Aurelius said...

An average may or may not tell something about an individual member of a group.

However, in general you are right the magical number we call average is not very descriptive in and of itself. You need at least one more number the group variance or standard deviation to help better understand the average.

A demonstration of this was two normal curves (aka "bell curves") that had close but distinct averages. So clearly one curve had a smaller average, but when you select random members of each population one could not with reasonable certainty predict which one had the greater property (property being cuteness, intelligence, wealth whatever).

The next set of two curves showed having with widely separated averages and the curves had overlap but not much. In that case the situation changes and you can predict with more certainty.

An article I read on this very sticky topic years ago presented data suggesting the characteristic we call intelligence resembles my first example above that is they are not the same but not enough difference exists to really be meaningful. The article then notes when you look at the totality of factors that go into making a person smart each group has strengths and weaknesses.

Michael said...

You can GOOGLE yourself?!

Is that legal?

Anonymous said...

I personally do not Google myself in Public.