IQ, Genes and the Bell CurvePeter A. Jay's Oct. 20 column...


November 07, 1994

IQ, Genes and the Bell Curve

Peter A. Jay's Oct. 20 column, "The Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla in the Statistical Jungle," is about a controversial and politically incorrect book, "The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life," by Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein.

Mr. Jay resurrects an insidious subject in an ingenuous fashion. "Could it truly be racist," asks the New Republic about the book, "even to discuss the possibility there might be genetic factors involved in IQ differences?"

Peter Jay not only quotes the New Republic, but also seems to be of the opinion that the connection between genetics, intelligence and race should be thrown wide open.

When no one as yet has isolated or exactly defined the chemicals or hormones or genes responsible for intelligence, it is presumptuous, as well as racist to explain IQ test scores based on genetics.

Any experiment has to have controls. Are the black Americans who score 15 points lower than whites in IQ tests being compared to whites of similar backgrounds and socio-economic opportunities? Mr. Jay fails to analyze this. And what does racism itself do to IQ?

Racism is a systemic problem in America, palpable and excruciating for the minorities who live here. Racism undermines the confidence and pride required to perform well in tests. Ubiquitous racism has its tentacles in education, health care, housing and employment opportunities.

How many black Americans have health insurance when compared to their white counterparts? Do good health and nutrition influence intelligence? Of course they do.

Although there is an upwardly mobile middle class black America, a large proportion of blacks (and Hispanics) live in abject poverty, assailed by crimes that are the off-shoot of rampant drug use. There is not time for scholarship in such environments, only time to figure out survival.

The ghettos do produce their share of scholars, but scholars lead fragile lives in the midst of violence. They often die young and frequently give up.

Environmental activists have recently cited the phenomenon of "ecological abuse" heaped on the minorities and the poor of this country by government and industry. Due to the callousness of big business and government, blacks are more likely than whites to live near toxic dumps and industrial effluents.

What do many toxins do? They injure genes. Very tantalizing is the possibility that racism can be the indirect cause of genetic damage in those who are subjected to racism.

Charles Murray and the late Richard Herrnstein make the apocalyptic prediction, in their book that "the U.S. is in serious danger of becoming a society polarized by intelligence, with a dysfunctional underclass from which few can ever escape." How immutable and frightening this sentence is on the "underclass".

Human beings do not live in genetic cages. Genes are merely chemicals that are constantly remodeled and redefined through the process of evolution, through environmental factors and today by bio-engineers.

Assuming there is a pool of genes responsible for intelligence and this pool is more superior and more refined in whites than in blacks, the next question is, "Why?"

Can racism weaken and undermine the genetic pool? If a group of people live in a polluted environment, deprived of good nutrition and health, assaulted by unrelenting physical and mental stress leading to widespread drug abuse and disease, and is exposed to environmental toxins, what happens to its genetic pool? Surely we don't expect the genes to stay robust and superior.

The genes were flexible enough to allow the evolution of men from apes, and birds from dinosaurs. Therefore, the "underclass" can be provided with the opportunities necessary to cultivate and refine their genetic pool.

Meanwhile, people like Peter Jay and Charles Murray must shut up about inherent unchangeable genetic factors which forever doom some races to an inferior status. That's the kind of thinking I call "bunk!"

Usha Nellore

Bel Air

The Duty to Vote

Tomorrow thousands of Americans will go to the polls to exercise their right to vote. This letter is addressed to the majority of citizens who choose not to.

Our nation was created by people who fought and gave their lives to establish self-government and the right to vote. It is appalling that less than 50 percent vote in presidential elections, and under 33 percent in off-year elections.

When candidates become so cynical they map out winning campaign strategies based on low voter turn-out, it is time for citizens to acknowledge their responsibility to vote. I believe citizens have an obligation to invest 20 minutes every two years to go to the polls and vote. Democracy only works if citizens participate.

If your vote is not important, why do candidates spend millions of dollars to get it?

Richard L. Ottenheimer


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