Phil Torres Claims IQ Data Means “Black People Are Genetically Dumber”

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Phil Torres is an author. His blatant dishonesty and lack of principles first caught my eye in 2017 when he published an article in Salon titled “From the Enlightenment to the Dark Ages: How “new atheism slid in to the alt-right”. The poster boys for this article were Sam Harris and Milo Yiannopoulos. Sam Harris isn’t alt-right (he’s a Jewish liberal) and Milo Yiannopoulos isn’t even an atheist (he’s a Catholic clown), but facts shouldn’t matter when you have an axe to grind.

The article is the usual mix of the guilt by association and misrepresentation we’ve come to expect from Salon’s output on Sam Harris. However, one shining example of Phil’s unscrupulous methods is exemplified in how he attempts to paint Richard “we are all African apes” Dawkins as a promoter of white supremacist propaganda.

Phil makes the claim that Richard Dawkins has ‘linked to white supremacist websites’ which ‘further alienated women, people of color and folks that one could perhaps describe as “morally normal.”

We’ll get on to what one might consider “morally normal” behaviour shortly. The problem with the claim about Richard Dawkins however is that it is barely even a half-truth and its inclusion is clearly designed to create an association that was not earned. In reality, what Dawkins did was share the below satirical image of a non-existent book that riffed on his own best-seller ‘The God Delusion’.

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Unfortunately, what Dawkins wasn’t to know (and I suspect none of us would have) is that the QR code (that’s the little barcode) contained within the image—when scanned with an app—would direct you to a website championing white nationalist slogans. In short, Richard Dawkins didn’t spot something that was so hidden it required a QR decoder to reveal.

Upon being informed of this maliciously hidden information, Dawkins deleted the tweet. Now consider the mentality of a man that uses this obvious mistake as a jumping off point to argue that Richard Dawkins, and therefore ‘new atheism’ is somehow sympathetic towards white supremacy.

Not only does Phil seem committed to dishonestly smearing those he does not care for, his behaviour also extends to more sinister and unbalanced methods. Phil himself has admitted to creating multiple Twitter accounts to harass people after being blocked by them. And when that method did not get him the attention he believed he was entitled to, he would then threaten to turn up in person to his target’s place of employment, after being repeatedly told to stay away. This stalker-like harassment compelled one of his targets to consider a restraining order.

This brings me to the most recent episode of blatant dishonesty in the Salon/Phil obsession with Sam Harris. In Phil’s latest Salon piece titled ‘Sam Harris and Donald Trump: They’re completely different … yet very much alike’ he claims that Sam Harris has become a ‘super-spreader of racist disinformation’.

Torres points to Harris’s comments on IQ as his jumping point for labelling him a racist:

And as bad luck would have it, but as you absolutely predict on the basis of just sheer biology, different populations of people, different racial groups, different ethnicities, different groups of people who have been historically isolated from one another geographically, test differently in terms of their average on this measure of cognitive function. So if you’re gonna give the Japanese and the Ashkenazi Jews and African Americans and Hawaiians … you’re gonna take populations who differ genetically — and we know they differ genetically, that’s not debatable — and you give them IQ tests, it would be a miracle if every single population had the exact same mean IQ. And African Americans come out about a standard deviation lower than white Americans. A standard deviation for IQ is about 15 points. So, if it’s normed to the general population, predominantly white population for an average of 100, the average in the African American community has been around 85.

Here, Sam Harris is outlining the scientific consensus on variation in IQ. Phil goes on to summarise this data with ‘There is simply no other interpretation of this than “Black people are genetically dumber.” (emphasis mine).

However, given Sam Harris provides his actual interpretation immediately after the quote Phil Torres has mined, one would be inclined to disagree. As always when people selectively quote Sam Harris, what is omitted is usually more illuminating. And given what is omitted here would conclusively refute the thrust of Phil’s accusations, I can’t help but think it was intentional.

The full conversation containing the above comments can be heard here, with the relevant section beginning at around the 18 minutes mark. Here are the things Sam Harris says immediately after the words Torres chose to highlight in his article (emphasis mine):

“There are obviously some wrong conclusions some people want to make on the basis of these data…it is in fact true that there is so much more variation within any population, for everything, but in particular intelligence than there is between populations that you actually know nothing about a person’s intelligence by being told the colour of their skin. Being told that someone is white, is black, is Japanese tells you nothing about how good they are at anything

Sam Harris goes on to say:

“There is no argument for treating any person as anything other than an individual that needs to be assessed on his own merits. There is no argument for discrimination”.

These are not the words of someone who believes—or wants you to believe—that “black people are genetically dumber”. In fact, these are the words of someone who believes the precise opposite. The thing about genuine racists is that you don’t need to misrepresent them in order to demonstrate their racism. It seems that Sam Harris’s interpretation of the data is clear. And it differs emphatically from Phil Torres’s own bizarre assessment which is that ‘there is simply no other interpretation of this than “black people are genetically dumber”.

This must be one of those ‘obviously wrong conclusions’ Harris warned about. And you have to wonder what prejudices led Phil Torres to make such a conclusion.

Stephen Knight is host of The #GSPodcast. You can listen to The Godless Spellchecker Podcast here, and support it by becoming a patron here.

3 comments

  • Richard Sanderson

    I do find it fascinating that the “gatekeepers” of what liberals, humanists, and skeptics are supposed to say and do, seem very happy to defend a hack (Torres) who engaged in such abusive behaviour.

    Namely, Peter “Humanisticus” Ferguson, EVAPod (can’t recall his proper name), and Thomas “SeriousPod” Smith.

    This is a familiar pattern with some of the obsessive haters of “New Atheists”. They are very happy to chum with some very shady, abusive, trollish, and antisemitic individuals on social media. Never forget that one of the most ardent gatekeepers, Steve Shives, once liked a tweet (from a ranting and racist Farrakhan fan account) that mocked Maajid Nawaz after he was physically assaulted by a racist thug.

    Anyway, no surprise that Salon publishes hacks such as Torres. It went down the drain years ago.

  • Total Bullshit when Black People are given the same Test’s as white People they Score very well and even Excel.

    However I digress however in GRE LSAT and GMAT people of Colour do score quite well compared to SATs,

    The most Racist white People want to claim White Supremacy and that is morally Wrong.

    I challenge white People to think otherwise.Besides it is like saying all Black people can run the 100 Metres in under 9.85 Seconds.

    We now know that all abilities be it Musical Theatrical ability Athletic Ability is Gof Given.Let us make sure the Debate s moot and placed down the black and white debate

    African’s have talented People like other Races in other Parts of the World.

    • If more Black People are allowed to create the Tests that drive the SATS the GRE The GMATs then that Bias will show in the Grades and Scores.

      Despite the Racial Divide People of Colour still get High Scores on the SATS and other Standardised Tests.

      In Ghana we have the BECE and the WASSCE and other School exams.It would seem that it is not every Person who doses well in School that makes it in Business.

      The underlining Racism must come to an end in Academic Circles.Lest we forget that All human Beings are somewhat intelligent and capable.

      In 1994 a certain Mr Williams in my Adolescence assumed that only White People have a Higher IQ than Other Groups

      The Book was called the Bell Curbe and it was very Controversial in its Opening Year.

      It is still in Print and has moral outrage.

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