Bias and Biodiversity

Bias and Biodiversity

Bias and Biodiversity

Science, technology, and life.
May 13 2009 9:06 AM

Bias and Biodiversity

Steve Sailer has replied to my last comment on our differences over racial inequality . He accuses me of triangulating against him. He's right. The only part he left out is that sometimes you get triangulated because you're actually wrong.

Here are three passages that crystallize where we disagree. First:

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.


To Saletan, my having spent years toiling at the unpopular task of correctly figuring out one of the central conundrums facing modern America—how race, IQ and public policy interact—makes me a bad person.

Stop right there. Race and genes interact. Genes and IQ interact. But to say that race and IQ interact, without even mentioning genetics or environment, is a scientific and moral mistake. It's like saying that race and criminality interact, without acknowledging any intervening variable. Race is not a causal unit .


For purposes of sensible public policy, arguing over whether genetics plays a role in racial differences in achievement is a red herring. What's crucial to understand is that racial differences—for whatever reasons—are unlikely to vanish Real Soon Now, as all right-thinking people are supposed to assume.

Say it's discovered in 2010 that the entire cause of the black-white IQ gap is some hitherto unknown micronutrient needed by pregnant women that African-Americans don't get enough of, and a crash program is put into place immediately to solve the problem. If that happened, the IQ gap among working-age adults still wouldn't disappear until the late 2070s. ...

Of course, if there really are genetic differences in average intelligence among the races, that would make the "disparate impact" notion look silly. But it's not actually necessary to know that. It's merely enough to know that fair and valid predictors of future job performance have routinely found substantial gaps for decades.


That's a pretty clear statement that public policy has no responsibility to redress any cause of racially unequal outcomes. Hey, I'm all for colorblindness. But segregation? Denial of schooling? Some injustices demand redress. Sailer's argument rationalizes too much. Did childhood poverty deprive you of equal educational opportunity? Did Jim Crow impair your family's ability to accumulate financial and cultural assets? Too bad. You and the other kids screwed by this legacy have flunked "fair and valid predictors of future job performance." Here, take this mop. And hang onto it, because your kids will need it.

It's one thing to say we can't affect the distribution of talent. It's quite another to say we have no responsibility to affect or compensate for the distribution of resources.


As long as legal immigrants are carefully selected for optimum benefit to current American citizens, as well as (to quote the Preamble to the Constitution) "our posterity" , and are quite limited in number, then I don't see much reason to consider race in choosing legal immigrants.

Others would disagree. Overall, it's not a particularly big issue as long as we change the law from the current system of "family reunification" chain migration.

Don't see "much" reason? Not a big issue?

What reason would there be to consider race in choosing immigrants? And if we did that, are you saying you wouldn't mind?

Sailer and other exponents of "human biodiversity" seem to want more attention and respect than they've been getting. Here are two ways they can earn it. First, show as much interest in biodiversity within racial and ethnic groups as in biodiversity between them. And second, take into account the reality of racism , not just the reality of race. That's part of human nature, too.