Fwd: Nurture 2, Nature 0

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Date: Fri Mar 22 2002 - 12:29:40 GMT

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    Nurture 2, Nature 0 in US ethnic-disparity analysis

    21 March 2002 17:00 EST

    by Laurel A. Pasiuk, BioMedNet News


    Why do so many foreign-educated scientists hold top research positions in
    the US? Panelists at a New York briefing on race, genes, and intelligence
    today suggested a possible reason: Because they tend to come from
    countries that focus more on curriculum than on standardized testing.

    America imports foreign scientists to fill jobs that its own graduates
    just can't take on, said Purdue University psychology professor Peter
    Shonemann. Their countries of origin in general "do not have standardized
    tests, but just better school systems," he said.

    Scientists from outside the US are taking up engineering and other
    technical careers because Americans are not sufficiently educated to do
    these jobs, concurred Joseph Graves, a professor of evolutionary biology
    from Arizona State University, at the symposium in New York City,
    cosponsored by the nonprofit Gene Media Forum and the New York Academy of

    The participants explored the merits of using standardized tests as a
    tool to measure students' intelligence, and pondered, as Shonemann put
    it, "how to explain implausibly high heritabilities reported in the
    literature for mental tests with such a poor track record." Much of the
    discussion revisited criticisms of the controversial 1996 book The Bell
    Curve, whose authors Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray dwelt heavily
    on previously reported correlations between genetics and intelligence
    test results.

    Schonemann said that in students' first semester at university, the SAT
    (Scholastic Aptitude Test given to US high school students) explains 16%
    of their grade point variance. But in the last semester of the students'
    senior year, the test explains only 3% of the variance. Clearly something
    in the college environment affects their performance.

    The discussion comes the day after the US National Academy of Sciences
    (NAS) released an expert report addressing another longstanding issue
    involving race and public policy: the well-known disparities in disease
    and mortality rates between ethnic populations in the US. The NAS
    committee's lengthy research confirmed what a previous Gene Media Forum
    panel, including Graves, observed last November, that differences in the
    way minorities receive health care at least in part explain disparities
    in theier death rates due to disease.

    Similar environmental factors, today's panel suggested, may explain
    observed disparities in educational aptitude tests.

    "The SAT under-predicts the success of African American students," Graves
    said. Various human populations have a substantial overlap in their
    genetic material and have maintained a comparatively high "flow of
    exchange," he said. Therefore race should not play an important role in
    discussions about the inheritance of intelligence.

    The panelists agreed that heritability estimates do not explain the
    differences in how well African-American and Caucasian students performed
    on standardized tests. Panelist Nathan Brody, a psychology professor from
    Wesleyan University, argued that traditional standardized tests, such as
    the IQ test, are a poor representation of an individual's capacity to
    acquire knowledge because they are influenced by environmental dynamics.

    "Technically heritability is a property of a group of people," he added.
    "It does not tell you much about the degree to which that trait can by
    influenced" by environmental factors.

    This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the
    Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission
    For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing)
    see: http://www.cpm.mmu.ac.uk/jom-emit

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