MICHAEL BARONE: Group differences don’t undermine case against racial discrimination.
Should accurate facts be suppressed because stating them will “do a lot of harm”? Yes, writes the thoughtful William Saletan in The Weekly Standard, if the facts are about “racial differences on intelligence tests.”
Writing about the former Google engineer James Damore, fired after he wrote a memo about gender differences, Saletan says that Damore “thinks, as I once did, that if you say group averages don’t warrant prejudgment of individuals, smart people won’t read or apply them that way.”
In other words, even smart people will inevitably prejudge individuals by group averages, and indeed cannot be persuaded not to. I think this is just plain wrong, and not just about “smart people” but about nearly everyone.
Saletan seems to assume that if you just don’t write about the well-documented racial differences on intelligence tests, people won’t know they exist. This is just nonsense. People are aware, even if elite writers try not to let anyone say so in public, that Americans of African descent have lower average scores on intelligence tests. It is not some state secret that can be kept from anyone, whether their intentions are good or bad.
Saletan’s second assumption is that if people, even smart people, do somehow manage to learn this inconvenient fact, they’re necessarily going to use it to judge individuals. That they’re going to assume that everyone scores about the same as their group’s average, or that no member of the group scores above it.
And I think that’s just wrong too. Perhaps ordinary people can’t draw a bell curve for you. But they do know, again by observation and everyday experience, that there is a vast variance in the intelligence between members within the same identifiable group. And they are accustomed to judging people by their personal characteristics rather than by the average of a group of which they happen to be a member.
Yes, it’s only intellectuals who are foolish enough to do that, it seems.