Genes, Race, and IQ—An Apologia

The New Republic, October 31, 1994 (with Richard Herrnstein.)


As of 1994, then, we can say nothing for certain about the relative roles that genetics and environment play in the formation of the black-white difference in I.Q. All the evidence remains indirect. The heritability of individual differences in I.Q. does not necessarily mean that ethnic differences are also heritable. But those who think that ethnic differences are readily explained by environmental differences haven’t been tough-minded enough about their own argument. At this complex intersection of complex factors, the easy answers are unsatisfactory ones.

Given the weight of the many circumstantial patterns, it seems improbable to us — though possible — that genes have no role whatsoever. What might the mix of genetic and environmental influences be? We are resolutely agnostic on that.

Here is what we hope will be our contribution to the discussion. We put it in italics; if we could, we would put it in neon lights: The answer doesn’t much matter. Whether the black-white difference in test scores is produced by genes or the environment has no bearing on any of the reasons why the black-white difference is worth worrying about. If tomorrow we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt what role, if any, were played by genes, the news would be neither good if ethnic differences were predominantly environmental, nor awful if they were predominantly genetic.

The New Republic