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Response from the Author

Posted By: Raymond Wolters on June 17, 2009
I wish Zoe Burkholder had liked and admired my book, Race and Education. Alas, that was not the case. Nevertheless, in the course of lambasting the book, Dr. Burkholder identified my major theme: that “desegregation has been problematic, and integration a failure.” She also mentioned some of the ways in which the book challenges political correctness in education.

One correction is in order. Dr. Burkholder was mistaken when she wrote, “Wolters insists that it would be impossible to fully understand the failure of racial integration in American public schools without accounting for the inherent racial differences between African Americans and whites.”

I did not say there are “inherent racial differences” in intelligence. On the contrary, I said I was “an agnostic” when it came to the debate over the relative importance of heredity and the environment. In the preface I summarized “my personal opinion” as follows: “The concept that White and Negro races are approximately equally endowed with intelligence remains a plausible hypothesis for which there is faulty evidence. The concept that the average Negro is significantly less intelligent than the average White is also a plausible hypothesis.” The racial difference in average IQ could be inherent but could also result from social, cultural, and economic differences.

In an effort to make the story of desegregation and integration comprehensible, I noted that some people believed these policies were doomed “because of racial differences in average IQ – differences that some of them attributed to dissimilarities in the size and structure of the brain.” I never said that I agreed (or disagreed) with this point. To this day, I remain undecided about the relative importance of heredity and environment.

Some readers may find fault with the agnosticism that prevented me from saying that hereditarians are mistaken. That may be what Dr. Burkholder meant when she rebuked me for presenting an “unfettered” discussion of “the possibility of African American racial inferiority,” for “emphasizing … scholarly neutrality,” and for “positioning” myself as “the voice of reason.” She says I am wrong to believe “that scientists have not come to any solid conclusions about the question of racial differences, especially intellectual equality between blacks and whites.”

Dr. Burkholder is mistaken about these conclusions being “solid.” The debate over the relative importance of heredity and environment is continuing and lively. Richard E. Nisbett’s book of 2009, Intelligence and How to Get It, maintains that “malleable, controllable factors like schools and social environment, and not hardwired genetic codes,” are the key to intelligence. But Nisbett also acknowledges that “many if not most experts on intelligence in the late twentieth-century believed that intelligence and academic talent are substantially under genetic control.”

Eventually, genomic studies and MRI imaging of the brain will tell us more about the relative importance of heredity and environment than can be inferred from the statistical studies that are available today. In the meantime I think it prudent to say that currently there is no definitive answer as to why IQ bell curves differ across racial and ethnic groups.

Dr. Burkholder concluded her review with an assertion that “the University of Missouri Press acted improperly and possibly unethically by publishing a book that suggests there is scientific proof for the racial inferiority of African Americans.” I think it is a mistake, in strategy as well as in science, to deny the existence of such evidence. As Thomas Sowell has noted, “The taboo against discussing race and IQ … has had the perverse effect of freezing an existing majority of testing experts in favor of a belief that racial IQ differences are influenced by genetics. No belief can be refuted if it cannot be discussed.”
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 Response from the Author by Raymond Wolters on June 17, 2009
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