Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No need to be too PC about racial profiling

Nov 17, 2010


By Lee Wei Ling

A CIVIL service friend once forwarded to me an e-mail entitled 'Raised Security Levels'.

It read: 'The British are feeling the pinch in relation to recent bombings and have raised their security level from 'Miffed' to 'Peeved'. Soon, though, security levels may be raised yet again to 'Irritated' or even 'A Bit Cross'. Londoners have not been 'A Bit Cross' since the blitz in 1940 when tea supplies all but ran out. Terrorists have been re-categorised from 'Tiresome' to a 'Bloody Nuisance'. The last time the British issued a 'Bloody Nuisance' warning level was during the great fire of 1666.

'Also, the French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from 'Run' to 'Hide'. The only two higher levels in France are 'Surrender' and 'Collaborate'. The rise was precipitated by a recent fire that destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralysing the country's military capability.

'It's not only the English and French that are on a heightened level of alert. Italy has increased the alert level from 'Shout Loudly and Excitedly' to 'Elaborate Military Posturing'. Two more levels remain: 'Ineffective Combat Operations' and 'Change Sides'.

'The Germans also increased their alert state from 'Disdainful Arrogance' to 'Dress in Uniform and Sing Marching Songs'. They also have two higher levels: 'Invade a Neighbour' and 'Lose'.

'Belgians, on the other hand, are all on holiday as usual, and the only threat they are worried about is Nato pulling out of Brussels.'

I doubled over in mirth. The author of the article must have been British, a product of public school and Oxbridge. I guess one could categorise its content as racial profiling and its statements as politically incorrect. But as is often the case with such sweeping statements - including, one might add, of Asians - they contain a modicum of truth. But not all racial profiling is even remotely accurate.

After my A-level examinations in 1972, I had some months to spare before medical school began. I decided to learn German. My tutor, a Mr Smidt, was a German in his 50s who was helping our Education Ministry set up a vocational school.

I remember him telling me in all seriousness that Russians were dumb. The relationship between Germany and Russia had been unfriendly for some decades. So although my tutor meant what he said, I was not sure whether he was fair.

I was in Moscow some months ago, accompanying my father, Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew. I joined him for lunch with some Russian foreign policy experts. I had read their CVs beforehand, and listened intently to the discussion over lunch. It was obvious to me that they were highly intelligent people, as intelligent as, if not more so than, some of our Cabinet ministers.

Afterwards, I told my father what Mr Smidt had told me about Russians. 'He was wrong,' my father replied.

Then he told me about a four-star German general who had helped train the Singapore Armed Forces in the early years after independence. He had fought in World War II. He had told my father that the German Army had conducted IQ tests on some of the Russian soldiers they had captured. The Russians scored very well on the IQ tests.

The question as to whether intelligence varies among the races is a sensitive one. As a neurologist, I know how one thinks, one's verbal or spatial problem-solving capacity, whether one can read someone's emotion, even how one would react under a variety of circumstances, are determined by genes, although other factors play a part.

A significant percentage of racial differences is genetic in origin, so it should be no surprise that different races may have varying intellectual abilities.

Jews as a race tend to have superior academic intelligence. This may be because centuries of persecution had selected the intelligent ones to survive. Another possibility is that rabbis, or religious teachers, among Jews are highly regarded and viewed as extremely desirable husbands and sons-in-law. Rabbis tend to be scholars; so if they have an advantage at marriage and procreation, it stands to reason that the genes for academic intelligence will be propagated widely.

This does not necessarily mean that a Jew will always be smarter than an Australian Aborigine. But if we took representative samples of Jews and Aborigines, the average academic IQ of Jews is likely to be significantly higher than for Aborigines, though some Aborigines will score better than some Jews.

But suppose we use a test other than the standard IQ test, which predicts academic ability. Suppose we use a test that measures the ability to track and hunt an animal in the wild. I would not be surprised if Australian Aborigines were to do better than Jews.

In modern society, the Jews have an advantage, and are over-represented in professions such as professors, researchers, lawyers and doctors. In the United States, neurology conferences are arranged to avoid Jewish festivals because a disproportionately high percentage of neurologists are Jews.

Different races do differ in various ways. To deny it just to be politically correct is foolish. For large-scale planning in education, knowledge of racial differences is useful. But we must remember that at the individual level, it is not race or genes alone that determine talents or weaknesses. We must assess each person individually - the whole person, character as well as intelligence.

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.

Think-Tank is a weekly column rotated among eight leading figures in Singapore's tertiary and research institutions.

[No doubt there will be forum letters telling her off for being racist or propagating racism, cos all people are equal.]

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