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Old 05-21-2020, 04:26 PM
Delayed Reflex is offline
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Can "Scientific Racism" be a legitimate topic of study?


So as to not derail this ATMB thread, I've started this thread to further the discussion with RitterSport. I wasn't really sure what to title this post but it is meant to be a fairly open discussion on the concept of "scientific racism". I've copied my text from that thread below:

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Regarding "scientific racism" - it seems to me to be one of those topics where theoretically good discussion could occur, but rarely does. I don't believe that there is any currently any evidence that intelligence (which is itself a very nebulous concept) is correlated with race. Undoubtedly that is because there are probably hundreds of not thousands of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to someone's intelligence. Yet, it is pretty uncontroversial that distribution of genes between (though also within) racial groups is uneven, and there are populations where some sort of genes are more prevalent than others. I feel like we should be open to discussing these differences without inferring that it results in some sort of judgement for or against people of a particular race. Looking at someone's skin colour won't let you know whether someone has sickle-cell anemia, how tall they will be when they grow up, or whether they will be lactose intolerant, so nor would it let you know whether someone is genetically gifted in intelligence. Yet it is recognized that genetic factors influence all of these, and genes are unevenly distributed among the population.

It seems plausible to me that genetic factors could be a factor in explaining racial differences in test scores, in the same way that carbon dioxide emissions are a factor in climate change (note I am not saying that genetic factors ARE a factor, just that they could be, and that it is likely that the science is not at a level where we can discern this). Dismissing this possibility because there is currently no evidence for it seems similar to dismissing the possibility that CO2 emissions could lead to global warming 50 years ago because there was no evidence of that.
To me, if the following types of studies can be done:
-Trying to identify the links between genetics and various aspects of intelligence (or even just mental abilities in general - say ability to discern differences in musical tones, ability to read emotions in people's faces, ability to grasp nuances in language, ability to perform arithmetic, ability to comprehend abstract reasoning)
-Mapping the prevalence of said genes across the population

There will be those who think that this will lead to "scientific racism" in that these findings will cause some to tout the superiority or inferiority of different races. Do many people consider certain races to be superior or inferior because they have high prevalence of lactose intolerance, or low rates of obesity associated with genetic factors, or propensity to get sunburned? I realize that mental abilities are considered much more intrinsically linked to the "worth" of a person, but I don't know if that is a good reason for us to ignore differences in abilities between populations, if they exist.

I will say that it is likely that even if differences exist between populations, that doesn't necessarily make them that meaningful - any more than it might be possible that tall people are smarter than short people, or fat people are smarter than skinny people, or brunettes being smarter than blondes (similar to race, it is possible for there to be both environmental contributing factors in addition to genetic factors that could lead to these correlations, if such correlations existed). But it seems like people will often categorically deny that there could be any correlations between race and "intelligence" as opposed to just saying that the correlations are meaningless.

Ultimately, if genetic factors are a contributing factor to, say, the discrepancy of test scores between different races, shouldn't that be something that we should try to understand?
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Old 05-21-2020, 04:30 PM
Jonathan Chance is online now
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Scientific Racism is specifically disallowed in the rules of Great Debates.

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