Gavin Evans has written a pseudo-scientific book Black Brain, White Brain: Is Intelligence Skin Deep?
Gavin Evans has a Ph.D. in politics. However, this book is all about genetics, race, and intelligence. Some people may feel he’s not qualified to write such a book but I disagree. You don’t have to have a diploma in a subject matter in order to have an educated opinion on the matter.
Still, he has the audacity to write, “Even the finest scientific minds are capable of coming up with ridiculous theories when tackling subjects beyond their own calling.” (Loc 154)
For example, James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA’s structure, said that he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” 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.”
Evans thinks the Nobel-Prize-winning Watson shouldn't "tackle subjects beyond his calling," but somehow Evans feels it's acceptable for he himself to do so. That sounds like arrogance or hypocrisy. Or both.
Of course, I'm currently also "tackling subjects beyond my calling" by reviewing this book about genetics and intelligence. But as I said from the beginning, I don't have a problem with Evans (or anyone) debating things outside of their "official" realm of expertise. It's just like I dislike it that sometimes young people aren't allowed to voice opinions "because they have no experience."
My annoyance is simply that Evans doesn't see the hypocrisy of his criticism of Watson and other intelligent people.
Are IQ tests useful?
Evans argues that IQ tests measure “a certain kind of abstract logic. They do not, and cannot, measure ‘general’ intelligence.” (Loc 141)
But maybe “abstract logic” is the key component of general intelligence that matters. If rich and powerful people are far better at abstract logic than extremely poor people, then IQ tests are relevant and good predictors of a person’s future or potential. If countries or races that excel at abstract logic have a higher standard of living than those groups that have poor abstract logic, then we ought to pay attention that metric.
Yes, correlation does not equal causation, but a correlation is a signal that we ought to study the issue carefully and without bias to determine if there is causation.
Evans is hypocritical. He spends much time arguing that IQ tests are useless but then he uses them to justify his views on intelligence. For example, he points out that “educational levels, social class and exposure to knowledge could have prompted significant differences in adult IQs, which is hardly surprising.” (Loc 2654).
The smart arguments
On the plus side, the book provides good counterarguments against the hereditary arguments. Moreover, there’s this good excerpt:
“Some cultures are superior to others—not . . . through intellectual achievements, but rather because they treat people better. It follows that some are inferior. Cultures where rape is acceptable, where girls are banned from education, where men are permitted to murder daughters who are raped or who bring ‘dishonor’ to their families, where female genital mutilation is practiced, or where people are attacked or oppressed because of their color, tribe, language or religion, are inferior to cultures where these forms of barbarism and idiocy are unacceptable.” (Loc 864).
That's nice, although it’s a pity that he can’t even admit that the intellectual achievements are some cultures are inherently superior to others. China and England have delivered so many intellectual achievements. What has Comoros done? What is so wrong to admit that Hungary has produced more science noble prize winners than all of Africa?
We can debate why Hungary has more Nobel Laureates than Africa but there is no debate that this is a fact and that it's strong evidence that one culture is superior to another when measuring intellectual achievements.
But, of course, Evans would never let himself consider such a possibility.
Are we also going to deny that East Africans have athletic achievements in marathon distances?
Actually, Evans tries (unconvincingly) to deny just that.
Playing the "racism" card
Evans says, “No one denies that environment has something to do with racial differences. But every mainstream academic working in this area would dispute the claim that genes have anything to do with racial differences in IQ.” (Loc 3416)
Really? He dismisses Nicolas Wade, who was the New York Times Science editor. Apparently, he's not part of the “academic mainstream.” Why? Because he wrote a “toxic” book, A Troublesome Inheritance, which I also reviewed.
Nor does Harvard genius Steven Pinker (whom Time magazine named Top 100 most influential people) qualify as “mainstream” in Evans’s book. Pinker just another “racist” because he observed and explained why Jews have high IQ scores.
Ultimately, it is these arguments that spoil Evans’s book. He is unwilling to grant even one centimeter to the hereditary argument.
In Evans's world, everyone who argues that genes play some role (even a small role) in determining a person’s or a group’s intelligence is automatically a “racist.” He constantly labels all his enemies “racists” because it’s such a powerful insult. According to the Kindle's search feature, he uses the word “racist” over 250 times in the book.
Calling people “racist” is all the “evidence” Evans feels is necessary to refute their ideas. It’s really childish to just call your opponents names without focusing exclusively on the evidence and trying to understand their arguments.
I’m not suggesting that Evans doesn’t present evidence. He does. Unfortunately, his mind is so unscientific (he is the poster child for confirmation bias) and his emotional jabs at his enemies are so infantile that his arguments lose credibility.
Is it really that unreasonable to say that genetics plays a role in determining intelligence?
As Evans points out, Nicolas Wade, Steven Pinker, Richard Lynn, and others never argue that DNA determines intelligence or that it is 100% behind your IQ. Instead, they all argue that genes explain 30-70% of intelligence, depending on the author and the study.
Evans could win so much respect if he wasn’t so dogmatic and emotional. If Evans simply was willing to admit that genes play a small role, even a tiny role (like 10%), then his book would be far more credible than it is.
Did intelligence stop evolving 100,000 years ago?
Why does Evans think that intelligence permanently stopped evolving over 100,000 years ago? He says, “Humans were innovating in symbolic ways 50,000 years before they migrated to Europe, which suggests that while cultural and scientific innovation knows few bounds, base human intelligence has not evolved for a very long time.”
So because Africans drew some crude illustrations on caves over 100,000 years ago, human intelligence hasn’t improved in any group anywhere on Earth.
Meanwhile, skin color, eye color, eye shape, sickle cell anemia, the Duffy antigen, high altitude advantages, and countless of other changes happened in different groups in the last 20,000 years (even 10,000 years), but intelligence was magically sealed in a “do not touch this” DNA box for over 100,000 years.
Evans spends lots of time discussing the Flynn Effect (evidence that IQ rates have been steadily and rapidly increasing in the last 100 years). Now don't you think if IQs have been rising that fast that maybe they might also evolve in 10,000 years?
Evans needs to study epigenetics.
But he's bullheaded. Evans writes, “For as long as a species survives, it will usually not change a great deal. This applies particularly to human intelligence because, unlike skin color or ethnic diseases, it involves thousands of genes.” (Loc 4280)
Really? Then explain dogs.
Yes, obviously man has bred dogs but dogs demonstrate that a species can change a great deal when the environment challenges them in a different way. Humans selected dogs to help mold the various breeds. Any dog specialist will tell you that certain breeds are far more intelligent than others, even though intelligence involves thousands of genes. Dogs prove that a species can change a great deal and the intelligence between sub-species can also change a great deal.
Homo sapiens faced different challenges once they left Africa’s savanna behind. The frozen Arctic poses severe environmental challenges and could alter human intelligence much in the same way that humans have altered dog intelligence.
Ask any dog trainer if Border Collies are smarter than a Chow Chow and he will, without hesitation, agree. If you ask the dog specialist if the intelligence gap is mostly (or at least partly) genetic, he will undoubtedly agree that genes play a huge role.
Genetics is a key reason why a German Shepard is smarter than a Pekingese.
If dogs were as politically correct as humans, they would try to claim that whatever perceived differences in dog IQ can all be explained, exclusively, by environmental factors. And we humans would just shake our heads at their blockheadedness.
Does not knowing which genes influence intelligence mean that such genes don't exist?
Evans writes, “Even the most fervent of genetic determinists have struggled to find genes for intelligence.” (Loc 4661).
As if this proves that such genes don’t exist. We don’t know the precise genes that determine eye color, height, and skin color, so do those genes also not exist?
In the 1950s, scientists knew that DNA existed even though they knew nothing about its exact shape and way of working. Astronomers knew Pluto existed before anyone saw it (they could indirectly verify its existence through gravitational fluctuations). Therefore, just because we don't know exactly which genes influence intelligence doesn't mean that they don't exist.
It’s almost certain that in this century we will discover the genes that determine every human attribute. We already know that everything about us has a physical manifestation. Everything about us, including our love, hate, personalities, preferences, and looks are all determined by chemicals and molecules in our body. We can certainly influence and change these molecules with our behavior, electrical impulses, or drugs.
A study of over 100,000 people has isolated several genetic regions that are associated with “educational attainment” (the number of years spent studying). In a few decades, we'll zero in on the most impactful genes that influence intelligence. Give us time. We're getting there.
Evans will have to eat his words when researchers in this century prove which genes determine intelligence for our species. Those who think/hope that those genes will never found or understood severely underestimate the progress of genetic research.
Evans, who is from South Africa, writes, “I spent most of my first three decades living in a country where a minority believed the majority was unfit to rule because they lacked the intelligence, character and culture for the job—but mainly the intelligence.”
Now, nearly three decades since that country (South Africa) has been independent. An impartial Martian would probably say that the evidence so far has proven those “racists” right. After a good decade with Mandela, South Africa has gone steadily downhill, overall. Yes, some things have improved and South Africa isn’t as bad as Zimbabwe (another country that whites ruled and went into the toilet after they left). South Africa and Zimbabwe were the richest and most advanced Sub-Saharan countries. If they lose that lead, it hurts the “there are no racial differences in intelligence” argument. Let's hope South Africa turns things around after President Zuma leaves this year.
In a Facebook post, a popular South African asked people to complete this sentence, "South Africa would be so much better if...."
The top comment with over 450 positive reactions was by a black woman who wrote "...If we could distinguish between disagreements and racism."
Evans needs to understand that because, in his white brain, he sees any disagreement with his book as a sure sign that he's talking with a racist.
If Evans were to read my review, he would label me as a “racist troll.” Indeed, he predicts that trolls like me would pounce on his book. He suggests there’s a conspiracy against it. It’s funny because Nicolas Wade argues the same thing in his book. Wade suggests that the media and especially academia is strongly against any research on race.
Evans thinks the opposite. Evans views his we’re-all-created-equal argument as the underdog as if we’re living in the 1800s.
I side with Wade. The politically correct mafia, which Evans seems to be a gang leader, is alive and well. Their tactics are easy and obvious: just scream "racist" loudly and often.
Gavin Evans reveals his true bias at the end of the book
Evans effectively admits that he’s biased and unscientific. He writes, "I was intensely involved in anti-apartheid activities in the 1980s."
He adds, “Racism is an issue I feel strongly about. It upsets me, deeply and personally, and I believe that its faux-scientific expression is its most insidious version.” (Loc 4640).
I rest my case.
Evans is not an open-minded, objective scientist. He is on an emotional mission to discredit anyone who makes an argument that some groups may be smarter than other groups.
He champions the idea that we are all blank slates (an idea that Steven Pinker brilliantly demolishes in his book The Blank Slate).
Evans concludes his book with this feel-good (but misleading) message: “But despite these huge environmental differences, we can be sure of one thing: within any population group we choose to name we will find the full spread, in roughly equal proportions, of human nature: cruelty and kindness, violence and gentility, madness and sanity, inventiveness and placidity, idiocy and genius.”
If you’re equally emotional about this issue, then you will love Evans’s book.
If, however, you wish to examine the issue calmly and dispassionately, this book is worthless.
The verdict on Black Brain, White Brain: 1 out 10 stars.
Am I a racist?
For those who made it this far and conclude that I’m a racist, then you’re misunderstanding me.
I, like Pinker and Wade, am not suggesting that DNA is the sole or even main determinant of one’s intelligence.
I’m simply saying it’s a factor, just like one’s environment is a factor. Maybe intelligence genes impact just 10% of your brain (although most objective studies suggest that it's at least 30%).
And yes, some groups are smarter than others, just like some groups are faster than others, taller than others, and fatter than others. Why groups differ from one another has to do with an interplay of genes and environment. We can debate what how important DNA is versus the environment, but let’s not pretend it’s 100% environment, even if that’s the answer that would make us feel good.
Furthermore, I married a black African from Cameroon (see photo) because she's brilliant. Just because groups have tendencies doesn't mean that all the individuals in that group have those tendencies.
True racists don't allow for exceptions. In their brains, Jews are always smart, blacks are always stupid. Their mind is closed. They'll struggle to admit, for example, that Barack Obama's Kenyan father was smarter than many/most Jews.
We have to stop favoring answers that sound good or that are the answers we would like. Copernicus offered an inconvenient truth when he said that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around. The church thought it was a dangerous idea that could destroy society. But eventually we adapted to accept it.
The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is. -- Winston Churchill
Lastly, please study epigenetics. I may have to write a book about epigenetics because it's such an important topic that most people don't know anything about.
The notion that DNA is immutable is a 20th-century idea. In this century, thanks to epigenetics, we are learning that DNA is incredibly flexible and fast changing.
So just because a group (or an individual) has “undesirable” DNA doesn’t doom it for eternity or even a lifetime.
DNA gives us tendencies but it doesn’t determine our fate.
Disclosure: the publisher of Black Brain, White Brain, gave me a free copy of the book to do an honest review. They probably regret doing that!