Since the dawn of modern science and the concomitant expansion of global inequalities among nations, genders, ethnicities and races, scientists have sought to explain these inequalities, dancing around their true foundations —poverty, power and perspective.
In the last 40 years, historically silenced groups of intellectuals have pushed poverty, power and perspective as explanations of inequality, pushing aside the racist, sexist and ethnocentric justifications that saturated the academy for centuries in the modern era.
These rationalizations for inequality that connote the inferiority of a particular group have not exited the academy. Even though they are not dominating the discourse as they once were, they are now like roaches. They crawl around everywhere in the walls of the academy, with notions about being politically correct, keeping them at bay. Occasionally, they show themselves.
Recently, Dr. Randy Thornhill and his colleagues at the University of New Mexico, offered a theory to explain why countries where disease is prevalent have lower IQ scores. Thornhill coauthored A Natural History of Rape, a book published in 2000 arguing that rape emerged as an evolutionary adaptation.
Children in these high-disease countries divert energy away from developing their brain to fighting infection, Thornhill and company theorize in a published report in the Proceeding of the Royal Society. In testing their hypothesis, the scientists decided to compare global IQ scores with data from the World Health Organization. They found that there was in fact an inverse relationship between levels of infectious disease in a country and its national IQ scores. The more disease, the lower the scores.
Over time, Thornhill asserts, people in these disease-ridden countries (read Africa) have developed their immune systems at the expense of their intellectual systems, according to the The Guardian.
In effect, African people are intellectually inferior to Europeans because of the prevalence of disease in their countries. It is an unfortunate environmental and biological evolutionary phenomenon, I am sure Thornhill would assert.
Going a step further, it will be difficult to alter this state of affairs, Dr. Richard Lynn of Ulster University says indirectly. Commenting on the theory, Lynn, the author of the 2002 book, IQ and the Wealth of Nations, claims it is a two-way relationship between widespread disease and low national IQs.
“In recent decades, HIV has been a serious infectious disease and it has a high infection rate in low-IQ countries, especially in southern Africa, where it is present in around 30 percent of the population,” Lynn told The Guardian. “This is attributable to the low IQ of the population who do not understand the way the infection is contracted, and have erroneous beliefs about how to prevent infection.”
When scientists start with the principle that Africans are intellectually inferior, some try to ascertain why. In the 19th century, at the height of scientific racism’s popularity, they were claiming it was because the size of African brains was smaller than Europeans. After all the theories in between, now scientific racists have a new hypothesis, which is just as illogical, far-fetched and ethnocentric as the predecessors.
Measuring intelligence based on IQ scores is absurd. The idea that an IQ test, created by European scholars, could accurately measure intelligence levels among countries is even more absurd. There is no way to create a transnational, cross-cultural, cross-sexual, cross-racial, cross-gender test that is unbiased and fair for us all.
However, the most absurd intellectual reach is the overlooking of poverty, power and perspective as variables that affect the prevalence of diseases and national IQ scores. Like their predecessors and colleagues in the academy, these scientists maneuvered around the social reality, attempting to find a novel way to prove the intellectual inferiority of Africans.
Socially responsible scholars for decades have not let these racist theories, these intellectual roaches, creep out of the walls and shadows of the academy and crawl around. Twenty-first century scholars must do the same, as it is, and will continue to be, in waging a constant battle against those who want to find ways to rationalize their view of a natural racial hierarchy. Scientific racism has not even to subside. It is alive and well.
Dr. Ibram H. Rogers is an assistant professor of African-American history at SUNY College at Oneonta.