The sociologist's fallacy

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The sociologist's fallacy

The sociologist's fallacy is a fallacy where a correlation between a social variable (such as income) and an observable (phenotypic) characteristic (such as measured IQ or criminality) is claimed to be evidence of causality, without considering that genetics may be the explanation or a partial explanation.

The fallacy is commonly committed by race denialists who often claim to have proven that observed race differences are partially or completely due to socioeconomic factors.

The expression was coined by the IQ researcher Arthur Jensen.

One example is by arguing that socioeconomic factors correlate with IQ and that therefore differences in socioeconomic status cause IQ differences, without considering that genetics may be the cause or a partial cause of the IQ differences, which in turn cause the socioeconomic differences.

Another example is that lower income correlates with higher criminality and that therefore conclude that low income causes high criminality, without considering that genetics (such as genetics affecting IQ) may be the cause of the both the low income and the high criminality.

Sometimes several correlations are used for somewhat more complicated arguments, where the researcher(s) "control" for several different "social differences" between two group (such as immigrants and non-immigrants or White and non-Whites), which is argued to cause group differences to completely or partially disappear. The groups differences are therefore argued to be completely or partially caused by these social factors. However, if these correlations are partially or completely caused by genetics, then the argument is partially or completely wrong.

Using an increasing number of social variables is sometimes popular, since this can seem to "explain" an increasing share of group differences. Again, this is not necessarily correct, if the correlations are partially or completely due to genetics.

If a "control" using many different social factors still leaves an "unexplained" group difference, then this can be "explained" as due to diffuse and difficult to measure but politically correct factors such as racism. This has sometimes been referred to as the "sociologist’s second fallacy".

"The sociologist" in the expression refers to the fallacy being especially common among sociologists (and other non-biological researchers such as social anthropologists, social scientists, etc). One explanation may be that socioeconomic explanations are desired by such researchers, while genetic explanations are shunned. This may be because of the influence of Marxism which emphasizes the importance of socioeconomic explanations, may be because of lack of knowledge of genetics, and may be due to wishing to avoid providing evidence supporting not politically correct views.

Studies have found that genetic factors affect socioeconomic status (SES) and its association with IQ. In recent years, such studies have used recently available genetic methods. One study stated that "our results emphasize the need to consider genetics in research and policy on family SES and its association with children's IQ."[1][2][3]

A very large nationwide study in Sweden, which included everyone born in 1989-1993 (more than 500,000 persons), found a strong association between low childhood family income and subsequent violent criminality and substance misuse. But this relationship completely disappeared after adjusting for unobserved familial risk factors (such as genetic differences).[4]

External links

See also


  1. Rowe, D. C., Vesterdal, W. J., & Rodgers, J. L. (1998). Herrnstein’s syllogism: Genetic and shared environmental influences on IQ, education, and income. Intelligence, 26(4), 405-423.
  2. Trzaskowski M, Harlaar N, Arden R, Krapohl E, Rimfeld K, McMillan A et al. (2014) Genetic influence on family socioeconomic status and children's intelligence. Intelligence 42 (100):83-88.
  3. Marioni RE, Davies G, Hayward C, Liewald D, Kerr SM, Campbell A et al. (2014) Molecular genetic contributions to socioeconomic status and intelligence. Intelligence 44 (100):26-32.
  4. Sariaslan A, Larsson H, D'Onofrio B, Långström N, Lichtenstein P (2014) Childhood family income, adolescent violent criminality and substance misuse: quasi-experimental total population study. Br J Psychiatry 205 (4):286-90.
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