The race-and-IQ debate is back. The latest round started a few weeks ago when Harvard geneticist David Reich wrote a New York Times op-ed in defense of race as a biological fact. The piece resurfaced Sam Harris’ year-old Waking Up podcast interview with Charles Murray, co-author of The Bell Curve, and launched a Twitter debate between Harris and Vox’s Ezra Klein. Klein then responded to Harris and Reich in Vox, Harris fired back, and Andrew Sullivan went after Klein. Two weeks ago, Klein and Harris released a two-hour podcast in which they fruitlessly continued their dispute.
I’ve watched this debate for more than a decade. It’s the same wreck, over and over. A person with a taste for puncturing taboos learns about racial gaps in IQ scores and the idea that they might be genetic. He writes or speaks about it, credulously or unreflectively. Every part of his argument is attacked: the validity of IQ, the claim that it’s substantially heritable, and the idea that races can be biologically distinguished. The offender is denounced as racist when he thinks he’s just defending science against political correctness.
I know what it’s like to be this person because, 11 years ago, I was that person. I saw a comment from Nobel laureate James Watson about the black-white IQ gap, read some journal articles about it, and bought in. That was a mistake. Having made that mistake, I’m in no position to throw stones at Sullivan, Harris, or anyone else. But I am in a position to speak to these people as someone who understands where they’re coming from. I believe I can change their thinking, because I’ve changed mine, and I’m here to make that case to them. And I hope those of you who find this whole subject vile will bear with me as I do.