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History repeats itself

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Last time Charles Murray came to campus, in 2013, a handful of students staged a “walk out,” arguing that Duke should reject racist speakers. I replied with a call to be careful not to conclude someone is racist from the fact that he believes there are small average genetic differences between human populations.

On Tuesday, Murray was back to talk about his latest book, Coming Apart, and history repeated itself as the independent editorial board of The Chronicle issued a statement accusing Murray of being a “white nationalist” who promotes “notions of racial inferiority” by linking genes to IQ, and noting that genes (or more technically, allele frequencies) are differentially distributed across human populations.

The core claims made by The Chronicle's editorial board are false. It is The Chronicle's editorial board, not Murray, who slide from the idea that there are genetic differences between human groups —differences that have some explanatory power—to the conclusion that some races are “superior” others. The latter is a moral claim, and the former is a scientific claim—one that is increasingly testable. Murray has been absolutely clear throughout his career, and again at an informal discussion over dinner after his talk, that no moral implications follow from evidence of average group differences in cognitive traits.

The Chronicle's editorial board says we have no reason to listen to views that are “patently false or feed into dangerous historical trends.” But neither of these characterizations is true.

First, many respected psychologists and intelligence researchers defended the core of Murray’s views after The Bell Curve was published in an article called “Mainstream Science on Intelligence.” And many more do now, including prominent behavioral geneticists and psychologists. Maybe they’re wrong, but their views cannot be dismissed as “patently false.”

Second, while racism has an ugly past, it has declined largely because of moral arguments rather than scientific findings. Let’s reject the idea that we should have compassion for other people, and treat them with respect, only if they are genetically identical to us along every conceivable dimension.

Jonathan Anomaly is a lecturer at Duke University and a research assistant professor at UNC Chapel Hill.

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