Scientific Racism

In recent years, there have been many worrying trends but one that deserves special attention is the rise of scientific racism or race science. This is a pseudoscientific view, cloaked in an academic-sounding language, that tries to promote the idea that there are inherent differences between individuals of different races. The proponents argue that there are intrinsic, biologically and genetically determined differences between the races that determine their capabilities and potential including the differences in IQ test scores. Scientific racism goes hand in hand with alt-right ideology and is often used in the rhetoric supporting discrimination and unfair policies towards different groups. After all, if some people are genetically inferior, there is no point giving them support, right?

This ideology is not new and has been thoroughly debunked before, even though its proponents continue to believe in it.  The main argument they offer is that modern society and, specifically, scientists whose political views fall more to the left denies scientific arguments in favor of false tolerance. They often proudly state that they are telling an uncomfortable truth (or other statements to that regard) in a society that has grown complacent even as it rushes towards an inevitable destruction. Thus, scientific racism makes the claim that its ideas are based on science and should not be silenced to protect feelings. But are they really?

What race has the highest IQ?

First, the arguments made by racists are not supported by the wider scientific community. They are biased and rooted in a particular understanding of an issue. One can take sources like Murray’s The Bell Curve, which argues that black people are less intelligent than white people. This book came out in the 90s and was initially a bestseller, however, over the course of the following years, many scientists and academics spoke out against it, showing the flaws in the arguments. In academic circles, scientific racism is very much a fringe movement. Secondly, it is easy to find arguments against the main tenets of the theory. For instance, a popular paper arguing for the intellectual superiority of a specific Jewish group, the Ashkenazi Jews, can easily be debunked by showing fluctuations within the results of I.Q. testing of representatives of this population that vary by a significant degree within just a couple of decades, a very short period of time to demonstrate the influence of genetics. Data falsifications, biases, criticisms, and debunking by on-going research are common with the seminal works of scientific racism. It is clear that the evidence to support the claims that a particular race is better is tenous at best. So, the science part of race science may be considered controversial on its own.

Not that this stops its proponents. White supremacists, alt-right speakers, and other individuals continue to tout outdated arguments and ignore the later debunkings. Many view the scientists who originally developed the ideas as martyrs for science, unfairly silenced in a PC world. Unfortunately, the digital era allows these people to spread their ideas widely. One needs to look no further than some popular YouTubers, like Stefan Molyneux. Molyneux’s videos garner millions of views and he is well-established enough to have guests on his show, including Murray, the author of the Bell Curve, and other individuals with similar opinions. While at least some of these clicks on his videos come from people who watch it out of morbid curiosity, many genuinely support what he is saying or treat his claims and those of other personalities as a big deal.

There is a lot to find appealing concerning this rhetoric. White supremacists love it, of course, because it confirms that they are genetically superior and more intelligent, which gives their fight a sense of legitimacy. It is a very simple argument and one that has a veneer of objectivity: it’s simply fair to recognize and accept a biological fact. It can confirm the biases of many different people, including those who view science with a sense of skepticism or who, albeit not openly racist, may believe that “pc-culture” is going too far. It is unfortunate that theorists who promote scientific racism can present themselves as truth-tellers in a world that represses them because this makes many more receptive to their arguments.

But does this matter? If scientific racism remains a fringe movement within the scientific community, what kind of impact does it have? We have seen a resurgence of racist views with the rise of the alt-right movement. It is becoming bolder, and the spread of these ideas encourages people to become involved. Scientific racism, if accepted, provides people with a scientific-sounding argument to support their racist views and gives them ammunition to discriminate or to promote specific policies that harm those individuals deemed genetically inferior. This rhetoric is spreading. Molyneux, for example, has millions of viewers, and other YouTubers and influencers of similar views have access to a big audience who may be swayed, even a little, by their ideas. Secondly, this influences practical decisions. Individuals may choose to discriminate, for instance, or vote a certain way. At higher levels, policy makers might be influenced in their decisions. Charles Murray himself with his beliefs that poor black people are just less intelligent than other people spoke as an expert before Congress before benefits for this group were slashed. The real-world impact of this ideology is dangerous and can hurt especially vulnerable people. The  more it spreads and the more accepted it becomes, the more consequences it may have. So far, even the very clear understanding of real scientists that these views are founded in pseudoscientific research and racist views has not halted its progress.

It’s not just that this approach is harmful. It’s also that it is wrong and has been debunked but continues to be espoused as an example of “real” science that is being silenced. But it has not been stopped. Spreading real scientific data and promoting a better, more nuanced understanding among the general public of what race is and isn’t and what intelligence is or isn’t can be a way of helping people understand why scientific racism is wrong. But this is going to be a long battle, one best fought with accurate and accessible information.

March 27, 2019