Intelligent Ignorance

April 6, 2009

The Freakonomics Q&A’s are generally pretty interesting, and the one with Paul Collier includes this interesting exchange:

Q: What do you think of Richard Lynn’s findings about race differences in intelligence and their relatedness to Africa’s continuing state of underdevelopment? In his work, Mr. Lynn compiled the results of numerous studies which appear to show fairly unambiguously that average I.Q.’s in sub-Saharan Africa are below 70. Studies furthermore show that this disadvantage is almost certainly inherited genetically. 

A: I don’t know this stuff and don’t want to. [..]

Blah blah blah, Liberals in academia, etc. But seriously, this is a very interesting statement which I at least partially agree with. Tyler Cowen and Robin Hanson discussed on a recent blogging heads, in Tyler’s usual cryptic style, that a lot of what we (and especially economists) consider reasoned analysis is simply our intuition in disguise. Collier’s intuition is that the I.Q. studies are seriously flawed, and so he doesn’t even want to know about them.

What else would we rather not know?

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2 Responses to “Intelligent Ignorance”

  1. Rrrobert! Says:

    It’s a very simple equation, right? The opportunity cost of learning enough about Lynn’s study to debunk it is far greater than the actual value of debunking it. It’s way easier to make a snap judgment, look at the number indicating that the average sub-saharan african was 3 standard deviations below the US norm, so below 99% of US testers, and assume there’s some key flaw in the study.

    I have to make this judgment all the time with global warming deniers. Someone (George Will) will point to a study saying the planet is cooling. I assume that if there were really a valid study saying that, it would have made the non-crazy-conservative news. And assume that the study is either wrong, misinterpreted, or misrepresented.


  2. Exactly. I was going to talk about creationism as another example. I am fairly convinced that if I tried to debate a creationist, I would lose, but that wouldn’t impact my conviction that creationism is false.

    Obviously there’s a danger of ideological blindness in this kind of thinking, but we’re both aware of that.


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