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Refuting Richard Nisbett

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JP Rushton

Richard Lynn

L:inda Gottfredson


3100 words

The environmental model on IQ in the debate on not only IQ as a whole, but in racial differences in intelligence has led to horrible policies throughout the world. Thinking that we are all equal and everyone is the same and has the same potential as the next person has really hurt us as a society.

Richard Nisbett is of the egalitarian (nurture) side of the debate on the black-white IQ gap. His main research has focused primarily on how laypeople reason and make presumptions about the world. His more recent work has focused on comparing East Asians and Westerners, and how and if they think differently. He says that the arguments have been made that Westerners learn analytically, focusing on the object and its attributes, use its attributes to categorize it and apply rules based on the category to explain and predict behavior. He says that East Asians reason holistically, focusing on the object in its surrounding field. There is little concern with categories or universal rules and behavior is explained on the basis of the forces presumed to be operative for the individual case at that particular time. This goes with white’s higher verbal IQ, as well as going with East Asian’s higher visio-spatial IQ. He says that his lab has found evidence for both.

Now that there is some background on Nisbett and his research interests, let’s turn to the B-W IQ gap.

Rushton and Jensen have refuted him multiple times. In their paper Race and IQ: A Theory-Based Review of the Research in Richard Nisbett’s Intelligence and How to Get It, they provide more than sufficient evidence that the B-W IQ gap, as well as other racial differences in intelligence, are genetic in origin. They propose that the hereditarian model (50/50 genetics/culture) better explains group differences than the culture-only model (0/100 genetics environment). They review 14 topics of contention which are:  (1) data to be explained; (2) malleability of IQ test scores; (3) culture-loaded versus g-loaded tests; (4) stereotype threat, caste, and “X” factors; (5) reaction-time measures; (6) within-race heritability; (7) between-race heritability; (8) subSaharan African IQ scores; (9) race differences in brain size; (10) sex differences in brain size; (11) trans-racial adoption studies; (12) racial admixture studies; (13) regression to the mean effects; and (14) human origins research and life-history traits. They conclude that the preponderance of evidence concludes that differences in intelligence, as well as other life-history traits between the races, are genetic (50 to 80 percent) in origin.

I will be quoting from this article Nisbett wrote for the New York Times, All Brains Are the Same Color.

JAMES WATSON, the 1962 Nobel laureate, recently asserted that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” and its citizens because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.”

Ah yes. What a great day that was when Watson said that. It needed to be said. The conversation on exactly why Africans are starving needs to be had. No, the answer is not colonialism. It’s intelligence. I’ve touched on how Kanazawa got attacked for stating that Africa’s woes are due to low intelligence, where the average is 70. Just as how Watson got attacked. Except since Watson is more well-known than Kanazawa, the PC crowd attempted to run him out of town. Watson is 100 percent correct with that statement.

Dr. Watson’s remarks created a huge stir because they implied that blacks were genetically inferior to whites, and the controversy resulted in his resignation as chancellor of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. But was he right? Is there a genetic difference between blacks and whites that condemns blacks in perpetuity to be less intelligent?

Blacks are genetically inferior to whites in intelligence, on average, just as West African blacks and their descendants are genetically superior in sprinting competitions and East Africans and their descendants are superior in distance running (the same as whites as both have the same muscle fiber type that allows for endurance running). Are we really to think that East Asians are superior nowhere? Clearly ridiculous. We know of Rushton’s Rule of Three, which holds through most all of the variables between races. Yes, there is a genetic difference in intelligence that will condemn blacks in perpetuity to be less intelligent.

The first notable public airing of the scientific question came in a 1969 article in The Harvard Educational Review by Arthur Jensen, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley. Dr. Jensen maintained that a 15-point difference in I.Q. between blacks and whites was mostly due to a genetic difference between the races that could never be erased. But his argument gave a misleading account of the evidence. And others who later made the same argument — Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in “The Bell Curve,” in 1994, for example, and just recently, William Saletan in a series of articles on Slate — have made the same mistake.

One of my favorite papers, the one that reignited the B-W IQ debate. Titled How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement, he argues that scholastic achievement and IQ can’t be boosted to any meaningful level. He says prenatal effects such as nutrition, the length of pregnancy, maternal stress and environment within the uterus has an effect on IQ, whereas any postnatal (environmental) explanations have not been found to show a lowered IQ, except those kept in isolation. Let’s see what the ‘misleading account of the evidence’ he is talking about.

In fact, the evidence heavily favors the view that race differences in I.Q. are environmental in origin, not genetic.

See the Rushton and Jensen paper, as well as the Jensen paper I linked above. Any environmental explanation for racial differences in IQ can easily be explained away due to bad study design, or simply not testing the children again at adulthood, as any instances where blacks showed they had higher IQs than whites, they were never tested again at adulthood. Just so happens, that around age 10-12, where most of these tests get administered, is when the racial gap starts to become extremely noticeable. To think that race differences in IQ are environmental and not genetic is laughable.

The hereditarians begin with the assertion that 60 percent to 80 percent of variation in I.Q. is genetically determined. However, most estimates of heritability have been based almost exclusively on studies of middle-class groups. For the poor, a group that includes a substantial proportion of minorities, heritability of I.Q. is very low, in the range of 10 percent to 20 percent, according to recent research by Eric Turkheimer at the University of Virginia. This means that for the poor, improvements in environment have great potential to bring about increases in I.Q.

Rushton and Jensen state in the refutation of Nisbett I linked that non-white samples show the same heritabilities as white samples.There is little evidence of any cultural, or hardship differences, such as being raised as a visible minority, in one group and not the other. If blacks had heritabilities that were consistently lower than white heritabilities, then we could conclude that racism and poverty were responsible for a lower IQ in blacks. Though when a researcher compared black and white IQs on 3 tests, he found that heritabilities were 50 percent in each group. “The heritabilities in the Basic, Primary, and Cattell tests were, respectively: Whites—.61, .37, and .71; Blacks—.75, .42, and .19.”

On Turkheimer, they say that he was right that he did find gene x environment interactions that made genetic influences weaker and shared environment stronger for those from poorer homes in comparison to those from more affluent homes. Though most studies show no interaction effects, or interactions vary significantly.

Other studies have shown that heritabilities are the same both within as well as between white and black samples. That led Jensen to label this the ‘default hypothesis’. Researchers analyzed full and half siblings from the NLSY on three Peabody Achievement Tests. 161 black full siblings, 106 pairs of black half siblings, 314 pairs of full white siblings and 53 pairs of white half-siblings. with measures in math and reading. The best fitting model for all of the data was by which the sources of the sources of the differences between those within race and the differences between races were the same, at 50 percent genetic and environmental. The combined model (50/50)  best explains it, whereas the culture-only and genetics-only models are inadequate.

In any case, the degree of heritability of a characteristic tells us nothing about how much the environment can affect it. Even when a trait is highly heritable (think of the height of corn plants), modifiability can also be great (think of the difference growing conditions can make).

Skewed perception on only working with young children. Heritabilities range from 20 percent to 90 percent from the time someone is a toddler to adulthood. He wouldn’t see the same in adult populations.

There is, for example, the evidence that brain size is correlated with intelligence, and that blacks have smaller brains than whites. But the brain size difference between men and women is substantially greater than that between blacks and whites, yet men and women score the same, on average, on I.Q. tests. Likewise, a group of people in a community in Ecuador have a genetic anomaly that produces extremely small head sizes — and hence brain sizes. Yet their intelligence is as high as that of their unaffected relatives.

Men and women don’t score the same on average. Rushton and Jackson found that on average, men had an edge on IQ tests, scoring 3.63 points higher than women. The people from Ecuador are dwarfs, encephalization quotient explains that, as well as brain size to non-fat mass being most important. Back to Rushton’s Rule of Three, East Asians have bigger brains and more neurons, whites intermediate and blacks last.

About 25 percent of the genes in the American black population are European, meaning that the genes of any individual can range from 100 percent African to mostly European. If European intelligence genes are superior, then blacks who have relatively more European genes ought to have higher I.Q.’s than those who have more African genes. But it turns out that skin color and “negroidness” of features — both measures of the degree of a black person’s European ancestry — are only weakly associated with I.Q. (even though we might well expect a moderately high association due to the social advantages of such features).

Funny. Rushton and Jensen refuted this 2 years before Nisbett wrote this article. Rushton and Jensen say that in certain areas of the Deep South, black IQ is around 70, consistent with the hereditarian explanation of effects of hybridization. An average IQ of 71 was found for all black children in one district, whereas it was 101 for whites (Jensen, 1977). Also, Lynn (2002) and Rowe (2002) analyzed IQ scores for those that are mixed black and white and found scores in between 100 and 85, around 93. Though they do say that evidence isn’t conclusive on the matter. They say Cape Coloreds and African Americans may have better nutrition, or are treated better in society. The Minnesota Study held many variables constant, and still the mixed race children had higher IQs. That supports the genetic hypothesis.

During World War II, both black and white American soldiers fathered children with German women. Thus some of these children had 100 percent European heritage and some had substantial African heritage. Tested in later childhood, the German children of the white fathers were found to have an average I.Q. of 97, and those of the black fathers had an average of 96.5, a trivial difference.

Nope. Doesn’t work that way, Nisbett.

If European genes conferred an advantage, we would expect that the smartest blacks would have substantial European heritage. But when a group of investigators sought out the very brightest black children in the Chicago school system and asked them about the race of their parents and grandparents, these children were found to have no greater degree of European ancestry than blacks in the population at large.

Strawman. No one says there aren’t any smart blacks.

Most tellingly, blood-typing tests have been used to assess the degree to which black individuals have European genes. The blood group assays show no association between degree of European heritage and I.Q. Similarly, the blood groups most closely associated with high intellectual performance among blacks are no more European in origin than other blood groups.

Correct. Though, the studies failed to choose genetic markers with large allele frequencies between Europeans and Africans (Jensen, 1998b pg 480).

A superior adoption study — and one not discussed by the hereditarians — was carried out at Arizona State University by the psychologist Elsie Moore, who looked at black and mixed-race children adopted by middle-class families, either black or white, and found no difference in I.Q. between the black and mixed-race children. Most telling is Dr. Moore’s finding that children adopted by white families had I.Q.’s 13 points higher than those of children adopted by black families. The environments that even middle-class black children grow up in are not as favorable for the development of I.Q. as those of middle-class whites.

“Superior”. I touched on Moore here in my ‘Blank Slate’ article:

Another is the Moore study, which tested 23 black adopted children and 23 black children adopted by middle class black families. Their findings indicated that blacks adopted to black families scored at 104 compared to the blacks adopted by white families who scored at 117. People may point to this and say “Well, they didn’t differ in their environment and not their genes, so therefor the B-W IQ gap is 100 percent environmental.” Ridiculous. As with the other 2 studies, they were not tested again at adulthood. To say that any of these 3 studies mentioned above prove a 100 percent environmental cause is intellectually dishonest.

Not worth talking about either.

Important recent psychological research helps to pinpoint just what factors shape differences in I.Q. scores. Joseph Fagan of Case Western Reserve University and Cynthia Holland of Cuyahoga Community College tested blacks and whites on their knowledge of, and their ability to learn and reason with, words and concepts. The whites had substantially more knowledge of the various words and concepts, but when participants were tested on their ability to learn new words, either from dictionary definitions or by learning their meaning in context, the blacks did just as well as the whites.

Nothing strange here. Blacks have a high verbal IQ in comparison to their visio-spatial. Rushton thought that black rappers and entertainers had high verbal IQs.Also, people from the same Community College would have, on average, around the same intelligence.

Whites showed better comprehension of sayings, better ability to recognize similarities and better facility with analogies — when solutions required knowledge of words and concepts that were more likely to be known to whites than to blacks. But when these kinds of reasoning were tested with words and concepts known equally well to blacks and whites, there were no differences. Within each race, prior knowledge predicted learning and reasoning, but between the races it was prior knowledge only that differed.

That environment can markedly influence I.Q. is demonstrated by the so-called Flynn Effect. James Flynn, a philosopher and I.Q. researcher in New Zealand, has established that in the Western world as a whole, I.Q. increased markedly from 1947 to 2002. In the United States alone, it went up by 18 points. Our genes could not have changed enough over such a brief period to account for the shift; it must have been the result of powerful social factors. And if such factors could produce changes over time for the population as a whole, they could also produce big differences between subpopulations at any given time.

In fact, we know that the I.Q. difference between black and white 12-year-olds has dropped to 9.5 points from 15 points in the last 30 years — a period that was more favorable for blacks in many ways than the preceding era. Black progress on the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows equivalent gains. Reading and math improvement has been modest for whites but substantial for blacks.

Nope. The data that Murray uses only shows those of the same age, which is the accurate model. Others use those from all age groups, skewing the findings due to different heritabilities at different ages.

Most important, we know that interventions at every age from infancy to college can reduce racial gaps in both I.Q. and academic achievement, sometimes by substantial amounts in surprisingly little time. This mutability is further evidence that the I.Q. difference has environmental, not genetic, causes. And it should encourage us, as a society, to see that all children receive ample opportunity to develop their minds.

Yes, interventions from infancy all the way to the end of grade school help, as genes explained only 22 percent of the variance in those at age 5, 40 percent at age 7 and 82 percent at age 18. IQ differences can be changed in younger children, as they are more malleable at younger ages as I have just noted. But as they age, to quote Jensen, their genes “turn on” and fall to the average for that racial grouping.

People like us need to refute these lies that attempt to say that we are all the same and that any and all intelligence and scholastic achievements are environmental in origin and not largely genetic, as Rushton and Jensen have argued vehemently over the years. I will close with the final paragraph of the paper that Rushton and Jensen refuted Nisbett on sums up this situation perfectly:

There is no value in denying reality. While improving opportunities and removing arbitrary barriers is a worthy ethical goal, we must realize that equal opportunity will result in equitable, though unequal outcomes. Expanding on the application of his “default hypothesis” that group differences are based on aggregated individual differences, themselves based on both genetic and environmental contributions, Jensen [59] proposed “two laws of individual differences”—(1) individual differences in learning and performance increase as task complexity increases, and (2) individual differences in performance increase with practice and experience (unless there is a low ceiling on proficiency). We must recognize that the more environmental barriers are ameliorated and everybody’s intellectual performance is improved, the greater will be the relative influence of genetic factors (because the environmental variance is being removed). This means that equal opportunity will result in unequal outcomes, within-families, between-families, and between population groups. The fact that we have learned to live with the first, and to a lesser degree the second, offers some hope we can learn to do so for the third.

People like us need to defend men who are no longer here to defend their work, in Rushton and Jensen. The environmental explanation for IQ, as well as racial differences in IQ, is preposterous. To think that a full environmental causality actually means anything to intelligence is clearly a pipe dream.



  1. It’s worth noting that Nisbett calls the Moore study superior not for its methodology (flawed) but for the extent to which it seemingly agrees with his views.

    Moreover he leaves out the effects of mitochondrial recombination when discussing the European DNA of black Americans. The European DNA of black Americans has been in said population for long enough that it should be thoroughly cut up and distributed throughout their genomes, and therefore high frequencies of intelligence correlated genes wouldn’t always be found with other genes representative of their White ancestors. That’s like observing that the genetic factor for Crohn’s disease introgressed from Neanderthals and then saying “see, this White man has 4% Neanderthal genes, so he must be more likely to have Crohn’s disease than this other White man with 3% Neanderthal genes!” The mathematical reality of the situation is that the majority of those 3-4% Neanderthal genes were separated from the factor for Crohn’s disease a long time ago and neither would be a good predictor of the other. Same goes for any intelligence related gene that blacks may inherit from Whites. The population as a whole will have more intelligence correlated genes derived from White ancestors than will comparatively purebred black populations, and that’s likely why they have an average IQ of 85 as opposed to 77 like South African blacks have. But within this population, the percentage of White DNA will likely not be an accurate measure of the likelihood of having a high frequency of White intelligence genes because the intelligence genes (and all the others for that matter) were separated a pretty long time ago.

    An interesting way to test the extent of this would be to attempt to find a correlation between European ancestry and skin color for blacks with no White grandparents. If you tested them for a given gene coding for light skin, say SLC24A5, I’ll bet that there’s not much correlation between their likelihood of having it and their overall White ancestry because SLC24A5 doesn’t typically come bunched together with a bunch of other White genes (again, they were cut apart). The paler/smarter ones may be a little bit more likely to have a higher percentage of European DNA but I doubt it’s much.


  2. Nisbett is an admitted Marxist. Further, his methods are shoddy and his conclusions untenable.


    • RaceRealist says:

      Many of the environmentalists are Marxists. Gould, Lewontin, Diamond, and they have something else in common as well. Most detractors of the hereditarian hypothesis are Marxists. Their political ideology blinds them to the facts and has them draw incorrect conclusions. Gould is the biggest perpetrator of this.

      I love whenever stereotype threat gets brought up in these types of discussions. The studies have been cooked, and many studies that show that stereotype threat does not exist weren’t published.

      Numerous laboratory experiments have been conducted to show that African Americans’ cognitive test performance suffers under stereotype threat, i.e., the fear of confirming negative stereotypes concerning one’s group. A meta-analysis of 55 published and unpublished studies of this effect shows clear signs of publication bias. The effect varies widely across studies, and is generally small. Although elite university
      undergraduates may underperform on cognitive tests due to stereotype threat, this effect does not generalize to non-adapted standardized tests, high-stakes settings, and less
      academically gifted test-takers. Stereotype threat cannot explain the difference in mean
      cognitive test performance between African Americans and European Americans

      (pg. 68, emphasis mine)

      Blacks also have higher self-confidence. The fact that people think that imaginary stereotype threat has anything to do with it is laughable, seeing how the studies that showed it doesn’t exist were omitted, and some even not published in the scientific literature.


  3. […] then cites Richard Nisbett, who I have discussed here, on the Moore […]


  4. Chinedu says:

    Sure, Nisbett debunks racist pseudoscience, which is why you don’t like him. After all, racist pseudoscience is your life’s work. But you’ll notice that all the “researchers” whose pictures you’ve plastered all over your site are not taken seriously by the academic and scientific communities. On the other hand, Nisbett is regarded as a serious and astute researcher.

    Funny how you’re trying to debunk a respected scholar like Nisbett by citing the works of a rogues gallery of roundly debunked racists, quacks, charlatans and fraudsters, all of whom are/were on the payroll of the neo-Nazi Pioneer Fund.


    • RaceRealist says:

      That’s nice. Now that you’ve given your opinion (I’m not denying that Nisbett isn’t a serious researcher) you can respond to what is written without the stupid attacks.

      By the way, this article is number 5 in the Google hits for ‘Richard Nisbett IQ’:


    • Chinedu says:

      By the way, this article is number 5 in the Google hits for ‘Richard Nisbett IQ’:

      Well I’m afraid this article, like all your articles, do more harm than good to race realism. You just don’t realize it.

      Anybody that needs confirmation that race realism is an absurd pseudoscience needs only to visit this blog.


    • Chinedu says:

      *does more harm than good…


    • RaceRealist says:

      Try saying something of substance now to what is written.


  5. MAB says:

    The fat corrected EQ supports racial IQ differences, but not gender differences.

    You made a fairly brief comment on here about not correcting EQ for fat in the gender and IQ discussion. When you do this (corrected for the difference in height) the EQ for male and female is almost identical, slightly favouring the female. Women have a higher correlation of brain size to IQ, and this increases as the height of subjects decreases. Dwarfs have a higher correlation of brain size to IQ than a normal sized human, score one against Nisbett there.

    This is exactly what you would expect to see if the area for a brain scoring 100 were the same in a small female as a large male. The larger male brain size turns our to be purely down to extra mass needed to run the larger body. This supports the brain size/IQ correlation (and by extension racial differences), but damages the higher male IQ claim. You would need to find a way to cover the fact that a man and woman with the same brain volume for cognitive function score differently. If you stick to the gender difference claim (based on brain size) you damage the racial difference claim.

    The IQ tests that show a male lead test students at school and college. There’s an issue with selection bias with those being tested. You get significantly more males in the lowest and highest IQ’s than women. Testing in a standard school environment usually omits those with developmental issues, who are mainly male. The same issue happens with college students, you have a testing group where the lowest IQ group are absent and this raises the male average.

    The difference in distribution is probably down to X chr defects. It would explain why women tend to clump around 100. A second X chr covers a damaged one, but you have a second chance at a defective gene.


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