A lesson in race, genes, and IQ

“Some people suggest that race is coded in genes and genes determine IQ test scores. A slightly less simple but similar supposition is that differences among races are associated with differences in genes that people have, which, in turn, are associated with differences in IQ test scores. Yet everyone has a sense that such claims are controversial. What should you think about them?”

With this introduction I kicked off an interactive presentation to high school students visiting the exhibit “Race: Are We So Different” at the Museum of Science in Boston in 2011. In preparing the talk I had been concerned that the efforts of many critics to counter claims that link race, genes, and IQ test scores were too easily discounted by people entertaining the hypothetical: “Suppose that one day advances in genetics show direct links…” So I wanted not to assert from a position of professorial authority that this or that scientist was wrong about the facts or interpretations. I sought instead to render simple direct relationships implausible and to provide angles of critical questioning that would help students respond to any new facts that might emerge in the future. In this spirit, the presentation started with the introduction above, announced the take-home lesson – “The world is not that simple” – then moved through the script reproduced below. I do not have data to show how successful I was, so let me suggest that readers evaluate the educational approach for themselves by formulating their own answers at each step. At the end, see whether you have a clearer sense of why it is implausible that race, genes, and IQ test scores can be linked in any direct fashion…  [See more]


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