Should accurate facts be suppressed because stating them will "do a lot of harm"? Yes, writes the thoughtful William Saletan in The Weekly Standard, if the facts are about "racial differences on intelligence tests."
Writing about the former Google engineer James Damore, fired after he wrote a memo about gender differences, Saletan says that Damore "thinks, as I once did, that if you say group averages don't warrant prejudgment of individuals, smart people won't read or apply them that way."
In other words, even smart people will inevitably prejudge individuals by group averages, and indeed cannot be persuaded not to. I think this is just plain wrong, and not just about "smart people" but about nearly everyone.
Saletan seems to assume that if you just don't write about the well-documented racial differences on intelligence tests, people won't know they exist. This is just nonsense. People are aware, even if elite writers try not to let anyone say so in public, that Americans of African descent have lower average scores on intelligence tests. It is not some state secret that can be kept from anyone, whether their intentions are good or bad.
Saletan's second assumption is that if people, even smart people, do somehow manage to learn this inconvenient fact, they're necessarily going to use it to judge individuals. That they're going to assume that everyone scores about the same as their group's average, or that no member of the group scores above it.
And I think that's just wrong too. Perhaps ordinary people can't draw a bell curve for you. But they do know, again by observation and everyday experience, that there is a vast variance in the intelligence between members within the same identifiable group. And they are accustomed to judging people by their personal characteristics rather than by the average of a group of which they happen to be a member.
Take Barack Obama, for example, whom majorities of American voters twice elected president. Even among people who would never vote for him, and even among those who regard him as reprehensible for whatever reason, you will never hear the argument that he was not intelligent enough to be president. (At least I never have, and I have read an awful lot of anti-Obama commentary.)
Ordinary Americans, who again are aware of average racial variations in intelligence test scores (whether or not they are frequently discussed by writers), know that Obama is a person with well above average intelligence. They judged him for who he was, and made a decision about him (choosing him as their president) that they recognized to be of considerable importance.
I think the evidence is overwhelming that ordinary Americans understand that it is rational to "treat people as individuals, not just as another member of their group," as James Damore put it. The existence of racial differences on intelligence tests does not by any means undermine the case against racial discrimination against individuals.
What it does undermine is the case for racial quotas and preferences. That case relies on the notion, as I put it at the beginning of my Washington Examiner column on Damore's firing, that "a fair society [would] have exactly the same percentage of men and women, of whites and blacks and Hispanics and Asians, in every line of work and occupational category" and "that any divergence from these percentages must necessarily result from oppression." That's nonsense, in my view, and ordinary people are not racists or sexists to reject it.