I recently posted a discussion on whether races exist. I argued that races might exist, but that it wasn’t useful to use the word.
A comment by JL made me rethink my argument. I haven’t changed my conclusions (notice how rarely this happens? Its almost like we we use logic to justify our conclusions rather than to deduce our conclusions… but that is a different post entirely). But I have realised that I missed an extremely important point, one which changes the whole concept of scientific hypothesis.
Whether we believe a-priori that IQ differences between races exist can affect whether it is true.
Consider this. Imagine that scientists say “differences in IQ between races might exist”. We all see differences in IQ in the real world. People say, “yes, this could be true”, and act accordingly. Perhaps, all other things being equal, schools invest in children from the perceived higher IQ race (lets call them race 1). Perhaps people give jobs to those people from race 1 preferentially – all other things being equal. Of course, when someone from race 2 is better for the job, they get it.
This generation of children grow up; they are educated in the same way as their parents; they get jobs the same way as their parents. They have children, and so it goes on.
Now imagine that IQ is determined by both race and upbringing. People from race 2 have, on average, worse jobs. They can’t afford high quality education. So they do, in fact have lower IQ. The scientists can measure this; the hypothesis is confirmed. Breaking news!
Does this all sound familiar? That’s because it already happened. It is of course trivial; both scientists and non-scientists alike have seen this in action. But the ramifications for social science are immense. Normally science works by starting with a “null hypothesis” (how we believe the world might work) and comparing it to a “hypothesis” (something we want to test). But in measuring IQ differences, our choice of “null hypothesis” can affect the truth of the hypothesis! If we say, as above, that differences might exist in our null hypothesis, then they do. If we instead choose the null hypothesis that all races are equal – and insist on this to the world at large – then, and only then, might we be able to measure that IQ differences do not exist.
In other words, the whole world is an experiment: by banning racism we have started a test of whether racial differences really exist. Only time will tell if this is true or false, whether IQ differences exist are equalising. But this is only possible since we chose to treat the world as if racial differences do not exist.
This conclusion could be reached on any social science problem where our measures are imperfect. The problem lies in measures of IQ being biased to an unknown degree by upbringing; but finding a perfect measure is a hopeless task. It means that science has to work intimately with policy; to measure people we have a scientific and moral obligation to treat all people as equal, because without doing so we can never know if they are.
Whether people really are equal is in some sense irrelevant. They can only be equal if we assume that they are.