Will Saletan has kindled some blogospheric furor by writing an article in Slate about racial differences in IQ. The thesis of his article is that there’s a solid, genetically based difference in IQ between racial groups, one recognized by scientific consensus. The difference is mediated by head size, a claim which despite not being unambiguous bullshit, ought to raise a few red flags. My point is not to pillory Saletan, though many folks will be happy to do so. Rather, my reaction is to ask “why the fuck is Saletan talking about this?”
I don’t know a lot of details about Saletan’s life and credentials (except that he’s a major writer for Slate) but very little the article suggests that he’s an expert in psychology, biology, or even statistics. And certainly the people reacting to Saletan (Ross Douthat, the American Scene) don’t appear to be applying expert knowledge of those subjects either. The same is true of skeptics like Matthew Yglesias (whose post includes the self-same). Most of these people are paid to write about politics, not psychology. Even if they manage intelligent commentary, they’re mostly muddling around in the dark.
More importantly, it’s not clear why these people need to care. My impression is that there is real research on the genetic contribution to IQ, it’s not getting suppressed, but that there’s hardly a scientific consensus. There’s also few if any obvious political implications: suppose we found out tomorrow that there was an innate 5 point genetic difference in IQ between two races. How would we react? My best guess is that almost nothing would change politically–or at least that nothing should change (this is the exact opposite over the ‘debate’ concerning global warming). So there’s no reason political bloggers should be involved in the topic.
I have all sorts of opinions about the topic, but I’m well aware that they’re at best well-founded second-hand beliefs, and might be a lot worse than that. I think the annoying thing about blogs is that they copy a feature of the MSM where you get oracular figures holding forth on all sorts of topics, regardless of whether they know anything about anything. Blogs are a little more meritocratic: you usually have to know about some subject to attract readers. It just doesn’t have to be what you’re currently talking about.
Update: I can’t actually resist directly linking to this piece making fun of Saletan’s sources.
Update 2: Looks like Ross Douthat has withdrawn parts of his earlier post, though I wonder why he wrote what he did in the first place.