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Saletan’s Finale


And after all that, nothing. Saletan writes two columns purporting to demonstrate not simply that African-Americans are inherently intellectually inferior to whites, but that liberals who question this finding are anti-science. In other words, the science is so compelling that any argument against the racial inferiority hypothesis must be generated by political, rather than scientific, considerations.

And so, now that we have this finding, what are the implications for public policy? Surely, demonstrating the intellectual inferiority of Africans should have a significant impact of various public policy choices. Our foreign aid strategy should change, because sending money to Africa based on the assumption that Africans are capable of understanding complex concepts like “economics” is surely a waste. The implications for immigration are clear; more Asians and Europeans, fewer Africans. While Saletan suggests that race mixing can bring blacks up to white intellectual levels, it would be irresponsible not to consider that the opposite might happen; miscegenation, on average, is going to result in a child intellectually inferior to its white counterparts. Family assistance and affirmative action will need to be radically restructured, if not eliminated entirely.

What? Saletan doesn’t propose any of that? Why not? Really, if the science is as compelling as Saletan claims, it would be absurd not to use the findings to guide public policy. Yet, Saletan specifically discounts the idea of using this race science to guide policy. Again, why? It’s almost as if Saletan doesn’t really believe everything that he’s just argued. It’s almost as if his grasp on the science is so shaky that he has no confidence in the claims that he’s supporting. Indeed, it’s almost as if he wrote the columns solely as an exercise in angering liberals.

Yglesias points out the genuine strangeness of all this:

Saletan and my bloggy colleagues seem to have convinced themselves that there’s overwhelming opposition in public opinion to the view that whites are intrinsically smarter than blacks and also that there’s strong scientific consensus in favor of that hypothesis. As best I can tell, however, neither is true. The “black genes make you dumb” crowd is siding with widely-held popular prejudice against what most researchers believe.

Right; the idea that African-Americans are intellectually inferior to whites is hardly new to the American political scene, and there’s every reason to think that it’s still widely held in many corners. Indeed, it was widely held well before the latest round of shoddy race science convinced Saletan, and was used to justify any number of political and social arrangements designed to guarantee that African-Americans didn’t escape their “genetic” inheritance.

But then, most of those folks don’t read Slate. And you don’t get to keep your card as a contrarian journalist if you always agree with one side. Of course, you also don’t get to keep your contrarian journalist card if you come out for anti-miscegenation laws; it’s a delicate balance, but Saletan manages to pull it off. I would like to think that a few good social science methodology courses would impress upon Saletan and his ilk the difficulties associated with this kind of science; the trouble operationalizing the dependent variable, the dangers of drawing inferences in the presence of bad variables, and the virtual impossibility of excluding environmental variables from the process. I’d like to think that Saletan would at least be more cautious about the kinds of claims he’s making if he were familiar with some basic philosophy of science question, but I don’t know that it’s true.

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