Did I Advocate Racial Segregation in Education?

Earlier this year, I published a paper defending free inquiry into the cause of group differences in intelligence. It was partly framed as a response to Notre Dame philosopher Janet Kourany’s (2016) paper, “Should Some Knowledge Be Forbidden? The Case of Cognitive Differences Research,” which argued that inquiry should be restricted.

Many critics responded by attacking me rather than my arguments. Back in January, the philosophy blog Daily Nous ran a guest post falsely claiming that I called for “segregation” and “apartheid schemes.” This smear was resurrected a few days ago in a paper by John Jackson and Andrew Winston. They wrote:

Hereditarian researchers still call for establishing a two-tiered educational system for White and Black people (Cofnas, 2020, p. 134).

John Jackson knew this was false because (a) it’s ridiculous and (b) he was aware of my article in Spectator USA, which explicitly addressed this lie. But now the claim that I advocate segregation has become the go-to smear on Twitter.

Do I advocate racial segregation? No. Racial segregation is a bad idea for numerous reasons. As far as I can tell, the only people advocating racial segregation are woke liberals. It is woke liberals who have, for example, called for separate swimming pools, dormitories, and graduation ceremonies for nonwhites.

I know that some people will continue saying that I support racial segregation. Nevertheless, for the record I’m going to go over the section of my paper that is being willfully misinterpreted, and explain the correct interpretation.

The passage that keeps getting quoted out of context is where I say there should be programs to “work with the strengths and work on the weaknesses of every [ethnic] group to help make them the very best they can be.” The people smearing me as a promoter of segregation never mention that these are not my words. I was quoting Janet Kourany. She wrote:

To be sure, finding out that blacks have lower IQ scores than whites, or that women are analytically weaker than men, could be the beginning of educational and training programs to work with the strengths and work on the weaknesses of every group to help make them the very best they can be, and even to use the special talents of each group to help the others. Finding these things out could be the beginning of innovative programs that support rather than undermine the right to equality. That this does not happen, or seldom happens, is a function of the sexism and racism of society, not the knowledge uncovered by cognitive differences research.

In Kourany’s paper, “programs to work with the strengths and work on the weaknesses of every group” cannot possibly refer to segregation/apartheid, since in her view the reason we don’t or wouldn’t implement them is because of “sexism and racism.” Racial segregation and apartheid are paradigm examples of racist policies. She can’t be complaining that the reason we don’t implement a racist policy is because of racism.

I wrote:

But the reason that these programs, which Kourany rightly says ought to exist, have never been created is not because of racism but because of the taboo on talking about genetic differences among policy makers. No mainstream politician can acknowledge that there are differences that might call for the creation of a program to “work with the strengths and work on the weaknesses of every [ethnic] group to help make them the very best they can be.” It is hereditarians who have advocated these programs and environmentalists who have resisted them. The abstract to Jensen’s (1969) paper—the first major modern defense of hereditarianism—says (written in the third person):

Jensen examines other mental abilities [besides g] that might be capitalized on in an educational program, discussing recent findings on diverse patterns of mental abilities between ethnic groups and his own studies of associative learning abilities that are independent of social class. He concludes that educational attempts to boost IQ have been misdirected and that the educational process should focus on teaching much more specific skills. He argues that this will be accomplished most effectively if educational methods are developed which are based on other mental abilities besides IQ. (p. 2)

Contemporary hereditarians have also called for tailored training programs (e.g., Gottfredson, 2005a, 2005b, p. 318; Lubinski & Humphreys, 1997). Accumulating evidence suggests that education can indeed be effective in raising specific cognitive skills (Ritchie, Bates, & Deary, 2015).

Decades ago, Jensen (1969) was vilified for predicting that Head Start – a program based on the environmentalist assumption that early intervention can permanently raise intelligence and academic performance – would not have its intended effects. In The Bell Curve, hereditarians Herrnstein and Murray (1994) marshaled compelling evidence that Head Start was not working. In 2012, a congress-mandated report by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stated that the effects of Head Start disappear by third grade (Puma et al., 2012, p. xxi)—that is, Head Start was not working. Of course, the report did not endorse hereditarianism or recommend that Head Start be discontinued. It suggested that the program may confer some as-yet-undetectable benefits that last many years after participation. Nevertheless, in the years immediately following HHS’s report, the government increased funding for Head Start by hundreds of millions of dollars (Enriquez, 2016). If we had followed Jensen’s recommendation in 1969 to devote money to programs that were tailored to the strengths of different groups rather than to Head Start, around two hundred billion dollars would have gone to improving lives instead of accomplishing nothing that can be detected. This is one of many examples of how basing social policies on questionable scientific premises can have enormous opportunity costs.

The idea that this is a call for segregation is ridiculous. In the first instance I’m employing Kourany’s usage of “programs…” (it’s in quotation marks). None of the hereditarians I cite (Jensen/Gottfredson/Lubinski/Humphreys) argue for racial segregation or anything like that. The quote from Jensen doesn’t lend support for segregation. Jensen says that “the educational process should focus on teaching much more specific skills,” and there is no suggestion that any specific skills are race specific (there is of course a huge amount of overlap, so racial segregation would make no sense). The one policy implication that I explicitly consider is that we should stop investing in Head Start because it has been an expensive failure. If one accepts the empirical premise that Head Start is an expensive failure then my conclusion seems difficult to disagree with.