One of the fun parts about these gormless discussions about race consists of people who talk as if we don’t really know anything about the phenotypes under discussion. Like, who really knows what intelligence is, and who really knows if groups vary in average intelligence, blah blah blah.
The funny thing is that a lot of those discussing these issues really don’t know. At this point, the average graduate student in physical anthropology doesn’t know that different populations have significant differences in average brain volume – so why would you expect Jerry Coyne to? Does he know that there’s a fair-sized correlation between brain volume and measured intelligence? Even if he doesn’t, he would immediately understand why that was highly likely. Is he moderately familiar with modern psychometrics? Probably not. Does he know that there is a one-std difference in IQ between blacks and whites, and that it shows up before kindergarten? I doubt it. James Heckman knows. There is of course lots of other evidence that clearly shows that schools are not the cause of that difference, not least the observation that blacks do poorly in the same prosperous, integrated, liberal schools (Shaker Heights!) where whites and northeast Asians do just fine.
How many know that the observed rank-orderings of groups are apparently the same everywhere? Bring in Japanese as farm workers, and they’re in the upper middle class in four or five generations. Bring the Chinese into Malaysia as illiterate tin miners, and they end up owning and running all the industry in the country (and the Communist party too, back in the day).
How many of those talking about clines and races know that black 12th graders in the US score lower than white 8th graders on reading and math? How many known that blacks are hugely underrepresented in the upper tails of the achievement distribution?
How many remember the tens of times that we’ve been told that some new intervention is going to erase these gaps, and then seen the story dribble away to nothing? While we’re at it, why do these interventions always consist of a bunch of liberal arts graduates talking with great sincerity – isn’t there anything else to try? Something new, something with at least a Chinaman’s chance of success? Modafinil? Trancranial magnetic stimulation? Caning? Tarts for nerds?
Parenthetically, none of these practical questions have anything to do with typological questions: a population that originated from the other end of a cline can be very different, and it’s the differences that matter, not whether there’s a natural seam between populations (like the Sahara, or the Himalayas). This is obvious to anyone who’s ever thought seriously about the matter. Both of us!
Since it is obvious that ‘clines vs races’ argument has no relevance to the real question – the enduring achievement gaps between different populations in the US and other countries – why do people keep bringing it up? I used to think that such people were blowing smoke, deliberately lying to make a point, but I am increasingly willing to consider the possibility that they’re just stupid. Mixed explanations are also possible: such nonsense has worked in the past, and the current practitioners are following a beaten path, rather than rationally planning a deception campaign.
Of course, when someone says that “Genes matter, but they are only a small part of the whole evolutionary picture”, you figure that he’s just an idiot.