The Potential High Cost of Truth Seeking or Fine, Some Are More Neanderthal Than Others. So What?

What happens when the world of what may be true collides with the world of what we desperately want to be true?

It can get very ugly, very quickly.

So, when political scientist Charles Murray published a book in 1994 concerning intelligence, The Bell Curve, in which one chapter is devoted to the understanding of the role of race and IQ, these worlds collided and it was not pretty.

Since this book was written nearly 25 years ago, Murray has been all but officially banned from the social scientific community and universities -his life and well-being threatened.

In this one chapter, his scientific inquiry led him to the conclusion that race does play a role in IQ in the main, with plenty of outliers. To summarize a complex conclusion based on many variables, his research concluded that of all the populations on the planet, Asians possessed the highest IQ, then something along the lines of whites, blacks and Hispanics.

When I first heard of this book, my first questions were, “What’s the point? Even if there are racial differences in IQ what would be the practical application of such data?”

After listening to an interview with Murray, I never received an altogether satisfying response. He warns of a potentially dangerous “cognitive elite” and something along the lines that social policy should be the product of good science. I am thinking he means policies such as affirmative action, though I am not entirely certain.

He does not sound like a racist, then again, very few real racists sound like racists.

Whether or not Murray is a genius, racist asshole or something in between, is not the point of this blog. I am not a fan of Murray nor have the background or understanding of the brain’s inner workings and its interplay with neuroscience to even have an opinion…and I would bet you don’t either.

I do know the claim that certain groups lack sufficient intellectual skills is one that has been used to argue for slavery, racism, sexism, Jim Crow laws, and eugenics, just to name a few. No level-headed champion of social causes would ever want Murray’s research to be even remotely true.

And this is the point of this blog and the cognitive dissonance I am currently experiencing: When does the search for what may be true need to take a backseat to what that search may cause in terms of social fallout and injustice? If it turns out to be true, that is all racist assholes would need to justify their intolerable and hate-filled views.

I realize that in 2018 we are striving for an equal playing field for all, though I know with absolute certainty there are a lot of people way, way, way smarter and more intelligent than I (in fact I am not smart enough to know if that last word before this parenthesis was supposed to be “I” or “me” or even “myself”). I do think it is an interesting study to find out the effects of intelligence on society and what the advantages the “cognitive elite” have over myself and others while seeking strategies for a more level playing field.

Yet if such a study would cause social upheaval and used to justify injustice, is the price of seeking answers to these questions simply too high?

To illustrate, I recently read a scientific journal article that stated genetic researchers are finding out certain human beings have more Neanderthal DNA than previously believed. “East Asians have about 2.3 to 2.6 percent Neanderthal DNA, while people from western Europe and Asia have retained about 1.8 to 2.4 percent DNA. African populations have virtually none because their ancestors did not mate with Neanderthals.”

I could not help but think that what if those numbers were flipped and African populations were part Neanderthal and not whites and Asians? If this opposite were true, would it be worth reporting this scientific discovery knowing this could propel a racist narrative for those hungry to confirm their racist bias? What is the purpose of reporting such a finding at all if it means providing fodder for evil agendas, i.e. idiots?

Yet as one who concurrently likes to read and seek out such interesting information, I am squarely “in tension.”

I am keenly aware of the role confirmation bias plays in the human psyche -the path of least resistance is simply seeking out “confirming” information and stimulus that provides the backing for what we want to be true and discard the rest. Also, as one who attempts to critically think, the path of least resistance is never the preferred path.

The easiest thing to do in the case of Charles Murray is to discredit the man as a racist asshole and move forward…and maybe he is, yet maybe he is not. Maybe he is man that loves to study one’s intellect and its role in culture, and, for whatever reason, race is studied as part of that larger equation.

I could not tell you.

Perhaps honest scientific inquiry can simultaneously move society backward and forward at the same time. I have far more questions than answers: Is the “truth” always worth seeking out? If scientific inquiry divides people, is there a good point to it? Why study anything by race…why not just study the human race? What are the ethical considerations science must adopt when conducting such research? Or should scientists just do science and allow the social chips to fall how and where they may?

I’ll write another blog when I figure these out and let you know. In the meantime, I have a feeling many more worlds will be colliding in the near future.








  1. Under current social conditions, it is my opinion any study centering on comparison of races would be foolish. 25 years ago it was probably done to prove a point and thus the data collected to prove that point. Too much research is done for that exact reason, to prove a point, rather than to find the truth.
    Having not read Murray’s work I have no idea whether he studied the various races in various lands or simply in the U.S.of A , or Europe, or Africa, or China, or whatever — or whether he studied their educational backgrounds, opportunities, etc — or what the size of the “group” that he studies.
    Having taken a couple of courses in statistics and used it in industry to some extent, I know that , based on the variables studied, and the weight given to each variable, on can manipulate the results (if one is dishonest ) to “prove” a point.

    • Thank you Don. What is the saying? Something like, “statistics are just numbers waiting for an argument.” If you are at all interested, here is a link to a long form interview with Murray, on a podcast I listen to regularly, Sam Harris. He does address the details of the study as well as why he did it….though, as I stated in the blog, not to my satisfaction. If you have some time, it is an interesting listen. Thanks again!

  2. Hey Jimmy, I want to start out by saying thanks for the great read. I don’t have much to say except that there will always be those who take information and technological discoveries for what is immoral. It can be argued that the person who invented the gun is responsible for all those killed by guns, but does not mean that he hated people. J. Robert Oppenheimer, who is said to be the father of the atomic bomb, cannot be said to hate the Japanese that were hit during World War II. Who knows, perhaps he was.
    We are always inventing and discovering, and I feel that means we are moving forward. There will always be those using those discoveries unjustly, and we cannot stop because the risk of how these people might do what is unthinkable. Charles Murray may have been racist, but his information and research will remain far after his racism dies with him. It is up to us to use this information for the right reasons.

  3. Hey Jimmy, one of your students here :]

    Thanks for the interesting read. After checking out your post I skimmed that same journal and read about some of the comments that Murray said. I recently also read a blog post by Philip Greenspun of Harvard, showing similar opinions as you and one of his quotes resonated with me. He said ” The chapters in question could as easily been summarized with ” whites were intellectually inferior to Asians.”
    This quote was in regards to the New York times posting the story up and pushing that agenda with the quote ” blacks were intellectually inferior to whites.” It baffles me how little it takes for people to turn a small statistical number into a racial superiority contest. It didn’t even take a full 1% difference in DNA sequence for someone to start claiming intellectual superiority or prowess.

  4. That is a very interesting topic to read. How some people such as Murray would try and study the divide of intelligence amongst races. I do not agree with the IQ part at all on his end, if anything it is how a child is raised. I believe the upbringing of a child can determine how it will use its intelligence in the end. I thought it was interesting, the study showing how Asia and Europe possess more Neanderthal DNA, and that isn’t brought up, but if it was reversed to other races it would be brought up most likely. This topic has me thinking deeper about how people perceive other people. Yes it is 2018, and racism should of died down already, but I feel people who are racist actual have lower IQs because they think narrow minded. But that would be a scientific study on its own, but that is just my opinion. Great article!

  5. Hello Professor, that was a very interesting read! I really enjoyed how you were able to look at both sides of the argument. At one point you quoted my existence. “Yet as one who concurrently likes to read and seek out such interesting information, I am squarely “in tension.” – Jimmy. Its can be a burden at times having an inquisitive mind in such an odd time of human development. I being ever the optimist, would like to hope science could gather data without creating a divide. That this data would give us a deeper understanding of self. The over all intention is to show how irrefutably similar, not clamoring for the hope of difference in pursuit of power. I believe if there is a “cognitive elite” it is there soul responsibility as human being to propel our species forward into the great unknown. Science and justice should be blind. It is our job to keep ours eyes open.

  6. Hey Jimmy,
    I really liked your analysis on the racist spin of the statistics. One thing I found interesting about Murray’s emphasis on superiority is that he didn’t point out that people from Asia have an even higher genomic % than western Europeans. By his flawed logic, that would place Asians as a more intelligent race than western Europeans. In my opinion that alone already showed his discrimination, in the fact that he lacked to mention such a correlation. After reading this, I actually ended up using this as an example in one of my essays for a nursing application! The question asked about how would you feel nursing someone who has a discrimination against you, or against others? I referenced the fact that some people are discriminate over the smallest things such as 1% difference of neanderthal DNA, but I would be able to be indiscriminate with my patients. Thanks for the cool read, and interesting insight!

  7. There are ranging IQ differences between different races. That does play a role but genetics play a larger role. Things like industrialization and culture largely affect what an individual knows.

    Most of the people that I have met and seen that held the most degrees we’re usually either Nigerian or East Asian.

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